Date of Visit: March 23, 2011
The National Building Museum is one of the non-Smithsonian Museums I discovered when I spent the semester at American University in 2006. I finally got around to taking Mik to it on this trip by squeezing it in the morning on the day we flew out of DC. Mik really enjoyed the exhibits, especially since they had a temporary LEGO exhibit, but the accessibility was not very good.
The museum is housed in an old building, so no faulting it that you can only go in and out on one side (G Street entrance). At least they clearly have signs pointing you around the building to the side with a ramp. Also, the doors in have buttons to operate them.
The problem comes when you get into the museum and every single exhibit is in separate areas that have doors you have to open to get into them. Now the doors are a good thing because groups of kids were eating lunch in the Great Hall (Grover Cleveland hosted his Inaugural Ball here when it was the Pension Building) and the area gets loud. The closed doors keep the exhibits quiet. However, they do not have buttons, so you have to open them, hold them open, and push through. Not too big a deal for me, as I am used to pushing Mik in similar situations, but the doors are not light and on the second level it is worse.
On the second level the exhibits are not level with the hallway, so there are little ramps to even it out. Well, that meant I had to open the door, hold it open, and push Mik up the ramp and in. Conceptually, it did not seem any harder than the first floor, but the ramps are not quite flush with the exhibit floors. This was only weeks into Mik having a Quickie Q7 wheelchair and I had not yet fully come to realize the front wheels suck and any little bump can get them stuck wanting to turn to go along the crack/bump and not over. Basically, they act like a Roomba. Anyways, that meant holding door open, tilting Mik back to have front wheels up, and into room. Not quite so easy, especially since Mik easily freaks out when front wheels are off ground even when I have two hands on chair.
Most exhibit areas did have a docent in them wandering around for if you had questions and such. In one of the areas, the docent was really friendly and while she did not see us coming in, on the way out of the exhibit she came over and held the door open. The LEGO exhibit was on second floor, but they had doors open and manned by ticket checker, since it was a paid exhibit. It still had issue of not quite being level with hallway floor, though.
The building has elevators on both long sides of the Great Hall.
Photos by Kjersti
Text by Kjersti with Mik's wheelchair accessibility input
National Building Museum
401 F St NW
Washington, DC 20001