One-Of-A-Kind Museum Devoted To People With Disabilities Is Closing
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Western New York and the rest of the country have lost a one-of-a-kind place to celebrate and educate others on the history of individuals with disabilities.
After 22 years, the Museum of disABILITY History in Amherst has closed because of the financial strain caused, in part, by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to its director.
The museum, whose mission was to improve the understanding, acceptance and independence of people with disabilities, temporarily closed in the middle of March shortly after the pandemic hit.
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That denied it a revenue stream from admission fees, but the lack of adequate dedicated funding also contributed to the permanent closing, museum director David Mack-Hardiman said.
“I want people to understand that we are working to share our exhibits so that disability history reaches a wider audience,” said Mack-Hardiman, who is also associate vice president for People Inc., a nonprofit disability services provider which operated the museum. “We want the mission of the museum to continue in different ways.”
The museum, located in a former volunteer fire company building, was believed to be the only brick-and-mortar museum nationally that featured exhibits and artifacts highlighting the history of individuals with disabilities, Mack-Hardiman said.
The museum, which attracted about 2,000 visitors annually, had employed one full-time worker and four part-time workers.
“The museum is a small space and we simply could not remain open due to the risk of the virus,” Mack-Hardiman said.
But he said he is determined to find new homes for the exhibits.
“I am involved in discussions with the Pennhurst group in Pennsylvania that wants to one day open a national museum for disabilities,” Mack-Hardison said.
He is also working with other groups that include SANYS, the Self-Advocacy Association of New York State in Albany, to take some of the museum’s exhibits.
“We have traveling exhibits that could potentially be used in other places. In that sense, we could reach a greater audience,” Mack-Hardiman said.
The museum’s exhibits include:
• “In Celebration of Down Syndrome,” featuring photographs and historical information “that present very positive messages” on those with Down syndrome, Mack-Hardiman said.
• “Self Advocacy,” a presentation of the history of how that movement began and details on the individuals who have contributed to it.
• “Institutional Cemetery Restoration,” a collage of photographs featuring efforts to improve forgotten cemeteries where individuals with disabilities were buried.
“A number of individuals with disabilities were buried with a marker that has a number on it and a symbol for their religion,” Mack-Hardiman said. “Many of the markers have no name at all.”
And though the museum is closing, People Inc.’s Training Center for Human Service Excellence will continue to operate in the building. Also, the museum’s online store, museumofdisability.org/store, is running a sale on books and other merchandise through the end of the month.
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