The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) held their Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo at our America’s Center Convention Complex this past May. “It provided a focus for universal design as practiced by CAR and the History Museum, as well as similar work being done around the country,” David Newburger, co-director of SDI and Commissioner in the Disabled for the City of St. Louis said. CAR is the CityArchRiver group.

In about 2010, the National Park Service and civic organization that came to be called “CityArchRiver,” or CAR, started an international competition for designers to propose ways to renovate and expand features of the St. Louis Arch, its grounds and the Old Courthouse.

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, a landscape architecture firm, was selected. MVVA led the design and subcontracted with numerous other designers in a variety of specialized fields.

David and Gina Hilberry, an SDI board member and nationally known architect steeped in Universal Design, the National Park Service and CAR welcomed people with a variety of disabilities to a committee.  Known of as the Universal Design Group (UDG), they served to review and comment on proposed designs.

More than 5,000 professionals from the museum field came together at the aforementioned AAM Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo at our America’s Center Convention Complex in May. This year’s theme was, “Gateways to Understanding: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion in Museums.”

The conference was scheduled in St. Louis to provide a focus for universal design as practiced by CAR, as well as similar work being done around the country.

CAR presented the work that had been done at a breakout session during the conference, outlining the work that its designers and the UDG had contributed to the project. Of course, the Arch project was a central part of the conference, with tours to construction sites, reviews of exhibit designs intended to communicate to all, etc.

One design criterion was to ensure that the end product would be universally useful for all visitors. The effort of universal design is to make all features welcoming for all people, including children, older adults and people with disabilities. Its goal is to design in a way so that families and other groups can move through the experiences together without particularly noticing most of the accommodations created.

David and Gina, as well as many others arranged for the CAR UDG to meet with almost every design group – landscape, museum, exhibits, waterfront development, video and audio displays, pathways, parking from downtown to the Old Courthouse to the Arch to the waterfront, as well as others.

With advice from the UDG, designers created ramps into the Old Courthouse, stepless entry to and exit from the underground museum and stepless pathways from the legs of the Arch to the waterfront. Also provided are audio and video access to exhibits, interactives that everyone can enjoy, virtual trips to the top of the Arch, and much more.

Meanwhile, while the Arch work was going on, the Missouri History Museum agreed to take over renovation and operation of the Soldiers Museum in downtown St. Louis. For some time, the History Museum has made its home-based exhibits as universally designed as possible. In the Soldiers Memorial project, the History Museum staff have been able to ensure universal design for the physical facility, as well as carrying universal design features forward to the Soldiers Memorial’s exhibits.

In this work, the History Museum has created its own disabled individuals group including representative of the Paralyzed Veterans of Missouri, St. Louis chapter, to help ensure success of the Soldiers Museum project. David and Gina have contributed to that work too.

The learning at the AAM conference will continue this fall at SDI’s Universal Design Summit 6 where there will be breakout sessions hosted by Missouri History Museum Curator Sharon Smith, with a Keynote by President Fran Levine.  Registration for Universal Design Summit is now open at

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