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Ashley Durrer tackles accessibility at the MFA

Ashleyversailes

In 2012, Studio Art major Ashley Durrer knew she wanted her next co-op placement to be at an art museum or gallery, so when the Museum of Fine Arts offered her a position in the Accessibility Department, she jumped at the opportunity. Her studio art background enabled her to create “tactiles” – interpretive materials such as raised line drawings and composition boards – that made it possible for visitors with low vision to experience the artwork. She also trained as a sighted guide, learned methods for introducing visitors with low vision to the collection, and organized tours for visitors with disabilities.

While Ashley’s experiences at Northeastern prepared her for many aspects of the role, the department also valued her innate sensitivity, empathy, and warmth. As someone who has lived with Crohn’s Disease since the age of 13, Ashley knew first-hand what it is like to live with a chronic health condition that may not be apparent to others. While her diagnosis might have been perceived as a liability to some, in fact, it proved to be an incredible asset that informed her work.

“The world of cultural access can be delicate in that sometimes people share private or personal information in order to be able to have the accommodation they need,” said Hannah Goodwin, the MFA’s Manager of Accessibility. “Ashley has done a superb job at respecting people’s privacy … and repeatedly demonstrated her ability to quickly turn information and new skills into a solid product or outcome.”

During her time at the MFA, Ashley developed a new partnership with the Starlight Children’s Foundation, an organization that supports chronically ill children and their families. “As I have been a member of the Starlight Children’s Foundation, it was important for me to do something meaningful for them as they had for me,” Ashley said. “We developed four different tours for families, each with a different art-making activity. It was wonderful seeing children get involved with the art with their parents and siblings and for them to have an experience unrelated to their health issues.”

Now studying abroad in Italy, Ashley credits her MFA co-op experience with increasing her confidence, leadership ability, and willingness to try new things. For example, she has accepted more public speaking roles as a member of the Starlight Children’s Foundation and she’s even taking ballroom dancing classes in Italian, something that she never would have considered prior to her co-op. When she returns to campus for her final semester this spring, Ashley plans to continue working at the MFA part-time and hopes to contribute to the worlds of art and accessibility when she graduates. In the meantime, she is enjoying living, studying, and traveling in Italy, and even shared a playlist of what she’s listening to now and a few behind-the-scenes images from the art studio. Buon divertimento!