Discovery Center at Murfree Spring
Photo from Discovery Center at Murfree Spring Facebook

Discovery Center at Murfree Springs has been in the forefront of museums tackling inclusion for both children and adults. During All Access Night on Tuesday, February 11, the Center celebrated the grand opening of two new inclusive features, a calming area and an ADA bathroom that can service special needs adults.  

Inclusion is becoming more important as the number of people with special needs increases. According to a story published on focusforhealth.org, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that one in seven children have some form of special needs. And currently, 14.8 percent of the population suffers from physical or mental impairments.

We recently asked, Lindsay Fortner, Vice President of Philanthropy at Discovery Center, all about the All Access Program. Fortner has a special needs child, so the new programs are near and dear to her heart.

Rutherford Source: How did the All Access Program get started?

Lindsay Fortner: All Access Nights came about thanks to the Special Needs Task Force at Discovery Center. This is an advisory council made up of parents, physicians, therapists and other professionals who advocate for our special needs community. Jackson National Life became a sponsor and we are able to host All Access Nights the second Tuesday of every month, and make it free to our families. This is a time when we close down the museum to the public so special needs families can visit in a calmer setting. These nights also offer fellowshipping with other special needs families.

Rutherford Source: How did the Special Needs Task Force get started? 

Lindsay Fortner: Caitlin Brown started the Special Needs Task Force when she was Director of Philanthropy at Discovery Center. Caitlin has a brother with special needs, so this was an initiative she really cared about.

Rutherford Source: What changes has Discovery Center made due to the Task Force’s advice?

Lindsay Fortner: We have made our exhibits and programs more accessible thanks to their professional advice and vision. We designed one of our newest permanent exhibits, Five Senses, under the advisement of the council. Each area of the exhibit is wheelchair accessible.

In addition to our current offering, which is assistive technology check-out (noise-reducing headphones, weighted vests, etc.), we’re so excited to add both an ADA private family restroom and a calming room for those with sensory needs.

Thanks to a local volunteer and special needs mother, all the labor and equipment that went into the construction of the ADA bathroom were donated by local businesses, which include H&R Plumbing, T.W. Drywall, Ogles Electric, City Tile, and Haynes Brothers.

We’re so proud to be one of the first organizations in Middle Tennessee to offer a sensory calming room, which will be available to all who visit Discovery Center. We received a grant to fund this project from the Predators Foundation, so we’re calling this space the Chill Zone. The Philadelphia Eagles recently added their own calming room to the stadium for their visitors with autism. This is an amenity we hope to see added by more and more organizations.

When designing Chill Zone, we were under the advisement of Teresa Plummer, a professor of Occupational Therapy at Belmont. Teresa also introduced us to Jayme Jacobson, a design professor with Belmont. Jayme connected us with one of her interior design classes. The students worked closely with the Discovery Center design team on the aesthetics. Teresa advised us on the sensory calming elements we’ve added to the space. We are so grateful to Teresa, Jayme, and Belmont for donating their time and energy to this important project.

Rutherford Source: What kind of a difference has this made in the lives of parents who have special needs kids and their siblings?

Lindsay Fortner: Venturing outside the home for some special needs families isn’t always easy. We try to do everything we can to prepare them for their visit, and make sure they’re accommodated in every way possible while they’re here. We have a section of our website called “Accessibility and Inclusion” that’s solely dedicated to these families. Under that section, we have a social story that can be downloaded and read to a child with anxiety about visiting Discovery Center. This can help calm any nerves, and allow the child to know exactly what to expect during their visit.

For more information please visit https://explorethedc.org/accessibility/

Discovery Center at Murfree Springs

502 SE Broad Street
Murfreesboro, TN
(615) 890-2300
Website: https://explorethedc.org/
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and Sunday, 1:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m.