There are many reasons to celebrate the reopening of the renovated National Air and Space Museum in downtown Washington, DC. The seven-year construction project at the museum has reached its halfway point and opened its doors on October 14 to its eastern galleries. There is no doubt the exciting new exhibits will lure many visitors back.
Many families will be excited about the new Family Care Suite located in the basement next to the new Mars Café. The suite includes a Family Lounge, a Companion Care Toilet, a Quiet Room, and a Nursing Suite.
The Family Lounge is a space where families can decompress and relax. It is a comfortable location for visitors to wait for others in their party.
The Companion Care Toilet provides the standard accessible toilet fixtures, but it also includes a motorized, adjustable adult changing table. Over 8 million people in the United States need assistance with daily self-care in toilet facilities. Baby changing stations are too small for older children and leave adults requiring assistance with no options. Most public venues do not provide any options for care givers other than laying their loved one on the floor of a public toilet to change them. With so few limited options, many families opt not to visit public venues at all and stay home. Providing adult changing tables in public venues allows families the freedom to go about their day without worrying whether they have a dignified location to accommodate their loved ones requiring assistance. Before the renovation, the Air and Space Museum, the most visited museum in the United States, lacked this accommodation. With the Companion Care Toilet in the Family Care Suite, the Smithsonian Institution will provide a first of its kind amenity on the National Mall.
Other features also provide a more inclusive visitor experience for families. The Nursing Suite is a quiet, private space for caregivers to feed and diaper their babies. Individual nursing rooms provide privacy and acoustic separation since feeding is usually smoothest when noise and visual distractions are minimized. The lounge provides a diaper changing area with a sink and a small play area for older siblings to wait.
The Quiet Room offers a clean, clutter free space with soft diffused lighting. One in six individuals in the United States has a sensory processing need. Visitors with sensory needs or an invisible disability will be able to use the space as a quiet environment to decompress.
The National Air and Space Museum is renowned for its family experience. The Quinn Evans design team consulted experts and conducted research to implement amenities that would offer patrons a more inclusive experience. The addition of the Family Suite is one small step within the building, but one giant leap for universal design.