Seattle’s EMP Museum has had accessibility built into the project from its inception. The non-profit museum was the dream of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It is a both a giant shrine to the music and history of Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix, and a global archive for all things Sci-Fi, Horror and Fantasy. The museum was designed by architect Frank Gehry, who designed the Guggenheim Museum in Spain.
Access was a focus throughout the entire project. Gehry worked closely with Seattle’s disabled community to ensure that disabled visitors and employees could experience a new level of accessibility and inclusion. Celebrity consultants and advisory board members threw their weight behind public awareness of inclusiveness, and the museum serves as an exemplar of accessible public architecture. It includes six lifts just for wheelchairs; electric door openers at every entrance; and low, 70 cm counters and surfaces throughout. The best seats in the house, including in the Sky Church, the EMP’s main music venue, are the wheelchair-accessible seats. An assisted listening system and ‘Rear Window’ captioning for the deaf and hearing-impaired, and sub-woofers installed in the floor so patrons can feel the music. All exhibitions and events have complete audio narration for the vision-impaired.
Visitors with a disability can choose from an array of real and virtual instruments, compose an instant hit and then perform it ‘live on stage’ before a massive audience created using virtual reality.
Setting an international benchmark for accessibility proved costly but was helped substantially by advisory board members including Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and George Lucas.