Key Source: Beyond Compliance

Callie Montalvo

Going through the research I have done so far, there have been a few key sources that have really been helpful in formulating my topic and making conclusions. I’ve been highly inspired from the impact accessibility has given to individuals with disabilities in museums and galleries, but there isn’t a lot of research behind other learning disabilities that are not directly highlighted in Americans with Disabilities Act, one of them being “emotional and behavioral disorders”. Toward the end of my thesis, I hope to help provide resources to the museum field that can improve accessibility for individuals with post traumatic stress or other behavioral issues, as an inclusive part of their communication strategy design, especially community engagement. For this post, I pulled a report that I was referred by Joseph Gonzales to check out, called the Arts, Health and Well-Being Across the Military Continuum: White Paper and Framing a National Plan For Action. Published from National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military and Americans for the Arts, this report focuses on how all the arts can have the positive effect on the military and veteran community. Within the report, there is a research section that discusses different health issues from this community, such as post traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, including how the arts can have significant effect on those with these health issues.  

With this report, I did focus on post traumatic stress (PTS), which has similar characteristics to other disabilities and disorders that are already being addressed in museum accessibility compliances. Very similar to the art education materials I have come across, the report includes characteristics of each disability, research, treatment and the advancement arts engagement can have an impact. With PTS, it is used as a term used for not just military, but other victims of war, violence, traumatic accidents and death, before the formal diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some of these characteristics include anxiety, depression, manic episodes, and re-visiting the traumatic event (s) that have happened to the individual. From this report, I came to find a shocking fact that aside from stigma from mental health issues or medication, those with PTS or PTSD, which is about one-third of returning service members, are hesitant or don’t seek treatment simply because they think their families will be more helpful than mental health treatment (Research, pp. 21). The arts can address this or other reasons why a service member would resist treatment.

“When using the arts, individuals can experience or express their thoughts and feelings without necessarily having to talk about or directly confront trauma…Participating in pleasurable activities also addresses emotional numbing, another feature of PTS – a lack of interest in activities, detachment from others, and restricted range of emotional expressiveness.” (Collie et al., 2006, quoted in Advantages of Arts Engagement, pp.21-22)

From this information, couldn’t museums connect to this community through a particular project or program to be that source for an individual to be taken out of their emotional detachment to express themselves? As museums are creative institutions, as well as educational and an open forum, couldn’t this be achieved in an effective way? I definitely believe so. Now, from a lot of resources I have looked at, there hasn’t been an actual report with this kind of information all together, and museum professionals involved in accessibility and engagement need to be aware of resources like these. Sure, they are about the arts as a whole, but as art and cultural organizations, there ways in which museums could conduct programming, be mindful of universal design, and even collaborate with military organizations for not only engagement, but in essence being a positive impact on military or veterans’ health and well-being. That is when these practices of reaching out, engaging and support go beyond compliance.