Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion

Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion (often described in museum circles as DEAI or IDEA) are four values that should be at the core of every museum. They stand for welcoming and engaging all visitors and personnel in meaningful ways. The following four definitions, provided by the American Alliance of Museums, provide a foundation from which to build understanding and action on DEAI values in pursuit of restorative and reparative justice:

Diversity is all the ways that people are different and the same at the individual and group levels. Even when people appear the same, they are different. Organizational diversity requires examining and questioning the makeup of a group to ensure that multiple perspectives are represented.

Equity is the fair and just treatment of all members of a community. Equity requires commitment to strategic priorities, resources, respect, and civility, as well as ongoing action and assessment of progress toward achieving specified goals.

Two drawings of three individuals of varying heights attending a baseball game. On the left drawing, captioned "Equality," each individual stands on one box. The tallest individual is able to clearly see the game over the fence, as the fence hits his waist. The individual of medium height is able to see over the fence, as the fence hits his shoulders. The shortest individual is not able to see. On the right drawing, captioned "Equity," the boxes are redistributed so the tallest individual is standing directly on the ground, while the shortest individual is standing on two boxes. All individuals are able to see the game over the fence, as the fence hits them all around the shoulder.
“Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire.”

Accessibility is giving equitable access to everyone along the continuum of human ability and experience. Accessibility encompasses the broader meanings of compliance and refers to how organizations make space for the characteristics that each person brings.

Inclusion refers to the intentional, ongoing effort to ensure that diverse individuals fully participate in all aspects of organizational work, including decision-making processes. It also refers to the ways that diverse participants are valued as respected members of an organization and/or community.

There are many institutions implementing DEAI initiatives, projects, and engagement with their communities, both new and existing. The American Alliance of Museums (AAM), for example, centered DEAI work in the formation of their 2016-2020 Strategic Plan. You’ll find many more examples and resources throughout Sustaining Places’ DEAI pages.

Language and DEAI

The manner in which museums communicate is crucial as it can welcome, alienate, and even exclude visitors.

(Re)Frame: The Case for New Language in the 21-Century Museum provides a strong introduction to how museums can think about the language they use.

For example, even the term “diversity” suggests a white perspective, because it positions whiteness as the default to which everything else is compared.  Representation is an alternative word to use to discuss engaging all communities. 

In the next section, you’ll find several terms critical to all DEAI work in museums.

Restorative and Reparative Justice

The museum field is currently experiencing a paradigm shift which places people, not objects, at the core of a museum’s purpose. This new paradigm responds to changing ideas about cultural authority, in which the community’s voice is as important as the expert’s voice. But, legally, museums have long existed for the public good and hold their collections in trust to serve the whole public. What the new paradigm really means is that museums and other public-facing institutions need to listen to more of their communities in order to be relevant and serve them.

Museums operating within the new paradigm empower their communities by fostering dialogue, with the goal of re-evaluating the past and the present in order to envision a more just future. To help you reconsider your institution’s values and practices in its pursuit of this goal, we have prepared a set of questions that you can download and use as a Conversation Starter Tool. This paradigm shift includes commitments to restorative and reparative justice in museums, which are defined below, recognizing that distinct definitions of these processes are not universally settled and reliable sources may differ around the edges while sharing a core focus on empowerment and healing:

According to the Center for Justice and Reconciliation, Restorative justice is a theory of justice that recognizes the harm caused by unfair treatment and practices in the past, and that aims at social healing. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders, including from communities harmed by unfairness.

Reparative justice is a process over time– no one goal or ending. The International Center for Transitional Justice describes reparative justice as “seek[ing] measures to repair, in some way, the harm done to victims as a result of human rights violations committed against them. This means that by their very nature, such measures must be responsive to both the context in question and the lived reality of victims” (7). Restorative justice is about community-centered inclusion, restoring people and communities to equally empowered inclusion in society and history, while reparative justice is about repair: an institution taking specific actions to “make whole” in order to promote healing. 

Intersectionality is a term coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how different forms of discrimination can interact and overlap depending upon the different combination of identities. Originally, Crenshaw used this term to address how Black women are often marginalized within feminist and antiracist movements; here, intersectionality described how gender and race intersected to multiply forms of oppression. The term has since been broadened to also include social factors such as disability, sexual orientation, class, and more. This framework should apply to every aspect of DEAI work; one must consider how communities existing in these intersections are affected by any policy. 

An illustration on a teal background. At the top edge, the following quote from Kimberlé Crenshaw: "Because of their intersectional identity as both women and people of color within discourses that are shaped to respond to one or the other, the interests and experiences of women of color are frequently marginalized within both."
Below this quote, there is a drawing of a stick figure person. Arrows surround the person, signifying that different qualities apply to them. These qualities include ability, sexuality, culture, ethnicity, language, class, education, age, gender, and race. At the bottom of the illustration, the acronym UNAVSA is listed as credit to the organization.
Union of North American Vietnamese Student Association

Additional Resources

Organization

The pages in this section of Sustaining Places seek to address DEAI across ability, class, gender, race, ethnic, and queer identities, guided by a commitment to restorative and reparative justice. These resources are starting points for conversations, but the best resource is your community. We strongly encourage community outreach and involvement to get a sense of where your patrons, donors, and visitors feel they are not being appropriately represented.

Within each of the following pages, you will notice the recurrence of four major subheadings that represent four significant areas of museum operation in which DEAI strategy and reparative justice should be enacted. These subheadings are as follows:

  • Personnel and Administration – From board to staff to volunteers and interns, personnel from diverse social and occupational backgrounds play a crucial role in promoting reparative justice and will develop richer interpretations, more innovative exhibitions, and greater public engagement. By working together to confront institutionalized issues, museum staff can contribute to a more equitable future. 
  • Inclusive Collecting and Repatriation – Museum collections have the potential to engage visitors in multiple ways because of their power to connect visitors to the past, present, and future. Inclusive collections that incorporate diverse perspectives while also properly representing communities can generate a more inclusive, empathetic, and meaningful experience that promotes reparative justice.
  • Exhibitions and Programming – Exhibitions and programs that demonstrate your commitment to reparative justice are a crucial step in developing a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable institution.
  • Visitor Experience & Community Engagement – How will you ensure that your museum is a place that feels welcoming and supportive to all? Visitor experience is affected by a variety of factors including accessibility, inclusive and reparative language, staff interactions, and opportunities for feedback, among others.

All four sections may not appear in every subpage, but where relevant, they are utilized as the primary form of organization of the pages.