ON HAND: What do Mark Twain and SPAM have in common?

This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column.

What do the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal, Mo., and the SPAM Museum in Austin, Minn., have in common?

Both museums–located in small towns in the middle of nowhere–are deaf-friendly.

My grandmother lives just across the Mississippi from Twain’s old stomping grounds, so I grew up always having visited the Twain sites–and was always bored out of my mind by the talky-talk tours. I had warned my boyfriend, Randy, about the speaking tour before we arrived. So we were very surprised to find that the movie at the museum was captioned. In fact, the workers went out of their way to make sure of this, and were very knowledgeable about how to turn the captions on.

Last Saturday, Randy and I went to the SPAM Museum (the meat, not e-mail). As we entered the impressive building, an elderly worker came up to us and explained that the wall behind us had 3,499 cans of SPAM–and that we could watch the movie or go ahead to the actual museum. We chose the museum.

Much to our surprise, almost all of the television displays and even a game room with Al Frankel as a televised host had closed captioning buttons. Even if some of the videos were silly (it was the SPAM Museum, after all), we were thrilled because now we could -choose- to watch or not.

The odd thing is that in many major cities, I’ve been unable to gain access to the spoken tours or displays at museums or tourist spots. A friend and I toured Independence Hall in Philadelphia on a whim in 2002, and nothing was accessible for us. We asked for printed transcripts–nothing was available. After sitting through a lengthy film, we suffered a dull, lengthy spoken tour of the buildings. Fortunately we both love history, so he and I were able to entertain ourselves. Afterwards, I sent in a letter expressing my concerns. I never got a response.

Even if I could’ve arranged for interpreters by calling in advance, many of the sights I see are made on impulse, especially if I’m driving and suddenly see the sight. It’s almost a trade-off–advance planning for accessibility, or impulse visits without accessibility. Maybe in a couple of years, we can have impulse tours of notable sights that are accessible.

Until then–go check out the SPAM Museum. They have an awesome gift shop where you can buy me a long-sleeved t-shirt (navy blue, please).

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