Grant seeks to make the nation's museum collections more accessible to the visually and hearing impaired


SALEM, MA -Today, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded a $473,000 National Leadership Grant to the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM). The museum and its partners -- the Smithsonian Institution, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Adler Planetarium, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Plimoth Plantation, Prime Access Consulting and sound artist Halsey Burgund -- will use the grant funds to help visually and hearing impaired museum visitors experience museum collections through a smartphone application called Access App.


The app, which is in development, will provide an open-source solution that enables communities with a range of abilities, specifically those who are blind or visually impaired, to immerse themselves in exhibitions and participate equally with the content presented. It will crowdsource audio descriptions, American Sign Language video content and translations of museum content into other spoken and signed languages. When played back through the app, this crowdsourced content enables audiences to "see" through the eyes of others. The technology weaves together participatory involvement and universal design into a holistic experience that is rewarding to both the content creator and the museum visitor.


"For most museums across the country, creating interpretative content that is fully accessible remains a significant challenge. Emerging technology offers exciting ways to break down traditional barriers for the visually and hearing impaired within the museum setting," said Juliette Fritsch, PEM's Chief of Education and Interpretation and lead investigator on the project. "This landmark grant enables PEM and its partners to create an open-source, national model of museum engagement that will have substantial public impact for years to come. I would like to thank PEM's partner institutions for the collaborative effort that went into making this grant possible."


IMLS museum grants support a wide variety of projects that create learning experiences, strengthen communities, care for collections and provide broad public access.  

"Our grants are highly competitive. The Institute of Museum and Library Services enlists hundreds of library and museum professionals throughout the United States to review grant applications and make recommendations on projects most worthy of funding," said IMLS Director Susan H. Hildreth. "Receiving a grant from IMLS is a significant achievement, and we congratulate PEM for being among the 2014 IMLS museum grantees." 


A complete list of museum recipients is available on the IMLS website at For information about IMLS museum grant programs, see:


About the Institute of Museum and Library Services
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Our mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Our grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) is one of the oldest and fastest growing museums in North America. At its heart is a mission to enrich and transform people's lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections, integrate past and present and underscore the vital importance of creative expression. Founded in 1799, the museum's collection is among the finest of its kind boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time -- including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, as well as Native American, Oceanic and African art. PEM's campus affords a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on  creativity zones, interactive opportunities, performance spaces and historic properties, including Yin Yu Tang: A Chinese House, a 200-year-old house that is the only example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States. HOURS: Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am-5 pm, and the third Thursday of every month until 9 pm. Closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. ADMISSION: Adults $18; seniors $15; students $10. Additional admission to Yin Yu Tang: $5. Members, youth 16 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang. INFO: Call 866-745-1876 or visit


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