So, how did #DisabilityStories go? Reporting on a big, lively, hashtag-based conversation/jamboree on Twitter.
Overview: #DisabilityStories was an international Twitter chat designed to spark celebration, connections, and reflection related to disability history, culture, and art. The chat took place in July to connect with the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 40th anniversary of the VSA, the international organization that champions quality arts and arts education for and with people with disabilities. On July 15, 2015, museums, libraries, archives, organizations, federal agencies, community voices, and individuals participated in an international conversation by sharing these stories in the form of photos, facts, videos, Q&A, and links on the social network Twitter. This report is compiled by Erin Blasco, New Media Department, National Museum of American History (NMAH).
Main message: #DisabilityStories are everywhere — including some unexpected places — and they’re important.
Partners: NMAH co-hosted the chat along with Culture Themes, an England-based volunteer-run organization that facilitates a monthly hashtag conversation in the galleries, libraries, archives, and museum (GLAM) field. Culture Themes coordinated international outreach for the chat, reaching out to its large following and promoting participation. NMAH coordinated the participation of the following partners: VSA, U.S. National Archives, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, George Bush Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives, National Endowment of the Arts, fellow Smithsonian units, and two influential community voices: Ibby Grace, educator and autism blogger, and Alice Wong, creator of the Disability Visibility Project.
Schedule: While NMAH promoted a series of focused discussions during the day, these were just one set of many conversations that were happening at the same time. The chat was a bit like a “birds of a feather” session at a conference — groups come together around sub-themes and participants float from conversation to conversation.
• 10:30–11 a.m.: National Museum of American History Curator Katherine Ott (@amhistcurator) hosted a discussion about disability history and material culture.
• 11 a.m. -12 p.m.: The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum (@FDRLibrary) shared stories, facts, and photos from the presidential library dedicated to the nation’s only physically disabled president and answered audience questions.
• 12–1 p.m.: The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives (@Bush41Library) discussed the process of expanding civil rights through the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
• 1–2 p.m.: Part I: The Kennedy Center’s Office of VSA and Accessibility (@VSAIntl) shared interviews with artists with disabilities who are featured in the 25/40 Celebration Championing the Arts exhibition at the Kennedy Center.
• 2–3 p.m.: Professor, blogger, and neuroqueer mom Ibby Grace (@tinygracenotes) led a lively #DisabilityStories chat focusing on autism.
• 3–4 p.m.: Part II: Q&A with visual artists with disabilities from the 25/40 Celebration Focus Forward exhibition at the Kennedy Center (@VSAIntl).
• 4–4:30 p.m.: Part III: The Kennedy Center’s Office of VSA and Accessibility (@VSAIntl) featured a Q&A with 25/40 Celebration performer Sean Forbes (@seanforbes).
• 4:30–5 p.m.: Alice Wong of the Disability Visibility Project (@DisVisibility) moderated a fast-moving chat on the power of social media in telling #DisabilityStories.
• Better position partners (participating institutions, organizations, etc.) on the radar of people who are passionate about disability history. Start or re-invigorate meaningful relationships with these audiences.
• Increase knowledge about and understanding of disability history, art, and culture among our audiences on Twitter — not just by sharing stories but also by listening. Challenge audience members who didn’t think they shared a connection to disability history to explore this topic and realize it is one to which many of us can relate.
• Illustrate that the partners value disability stories and reinforce the message that disability history is valuable. Position the partners as institutions that are good at listening, valuing audience members’ passions and questions.
• Promote upcoming ADA programming that will take place both in DC, around the nation, and online.
• My secret goal (shhh!): Help social media managers at museums around the world improve their skills in communicating about this topic, which could be a little challenging for those who’ve never had the opportunity to try. Increase their familiarity with the audiences and topics within disability history, art, and culture. Increase likelihood of these social media managers adding more #DisabilityStories content into their editorial calendars, beyond ADA 25.
• On the day of the chat, 7,800–8,900 tweets were sent as part of the conversation.
• The chat generated about 76.7 million impressions.
• Participants included influencers in the GLAM field (such as the Guggenheim) as well as community voices (such as bloggers and podcasters from disability communities).
• Replies and re-tweets to NMAH were up 350% and 174%, respectively, over a normal day. Follower count grew by 151% over a normal day.
• Participants joined from around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and the UK.
• NMAH presented our first video on the new social network Periscope — 630 people tuned in live, which is great for a first attempt!
#DisabilityStories was a large conversation:
The chat was international and continued for many hours, with the first tweets of the day starting in Australia and New Zealand. (By July 16, the conversation was actually still going on with about 2,000 tweets sent that day. The others numbers in this report represent July 15 only.)
• On the day of the chat, 7,800–8,900 tweets were sent as part of the conversation using the hashtag.
o Comparison: NMAH’s #docsocial tweetup in the Camilla’s Purse exhibition had 970 tweets. (#Docsocial was a shorter event (just a few hours), was hosted by only two major institutions (NMAH and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum), and focused mostly on tweets from on-site participants. It’s not a perfect comparison, but having never done something like #DisabilityStories before, it’s what I’ve got.)
• About 2,700 people/accounts actively participated in the chat by contributing. This number doesn’t reflect Twitter users who watched the chat without directly contributing.
o Comparison: #docsocial had 270 people contributing.
• About 8.7 million people were possibly reached during the chat. This number reflects the friends of those 2,700 people who participated in the chat, who may have been exposed to the chat through their friends’ participation. Since a major goal was to expand the audience for this conversation and reach a wide segment of the population, this reach number is good.
o Comparison: #docsocial had a reach of 1.2 million.
• The 8.7 million people who were possibly reached by the chat may have seen it more than once. Throughout the day of the chat, a tweeter might have seen a handful or even dozens of tweets. These are called “impressions.” The chat generated about 76.7 million impressions on Twitter.
o Comparison: #docsocial had 24 million impressions.
• Influential participants helped the chat reach more people. The most-followed accounts that participated included Smithsonian (2.21M followers), Guggenheim (1.21M), The Natural History Museum in London (1.14M), the Met (996K), the National Science Foundation (694K), British Museum (577K), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (512K), the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (219K), and an influential author (203K), the Globe Theater (120K), and Disability.gov (90K).
• The hashtag was a “trending topic” in Washington, D.C., giving it greater visibility to Twitter users in the D.C. area.
• NMAH published 7 Storify summaries highlighting the best tweets for each part of the schedule. These were viewed a total of 237 times and that number will continue to grow. (By July 28, the Storify summaries had received 292 views total.)
• On July 15 alone, NMAH blog posts related to disability history received 1,863 reads. That’s a lot in one day for one topic.
• While Twitter was the main location for the chat, content was also shared on other social networks. A Facebook event set up by NMAH received 42 RSVPs. NMAH posted to the event regularly, sharing Storify summaries and blog posts. These 22 Facebook posts within the even listing received 1,582 total likes, an average of 72 likes per post. Facebook lists that about 7,600 people were reached through the event listing, broadening the reach of #DisabilityStories beyond Twitter.
• On Instagram, photos related to #DisabilityStories were also popular. One photo of a DIY curb cut received over 600 likes and over 20 comments.
#DisabilityStories was a diverse conversation:
• The majority of tweets came from the United States, Canada, and England. In addition to this, participants identified themselves as being from the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Cayman Islands, France, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Portugal, New Zealand, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Wales.
• While many influential participants with huge followings participated, the chat included MANY voices of folks with a more average number of followers, many of which participated heavily. Some of the most engaged tweeters (by volume of tweets) and their bios appear below:
o @DisVisibility: “Recording stories by people with disabilities with @StoryCorps celebrating the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2015.”
o @ArchivesMatter: “Archivist at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, who is passionate about accessibility and usability.”
o @tinygracenotes: “Wobbly Ed/DS prof & gaily married Autistic mama of twin sons. Loves truth and beauty. Editor @AutPress AutPress.com & EIC http://neuroqueer.blogspot.com."
o @AndrewPulrang: Creator of the Disability Thinking Blog and Disability.TV Podcast.
o @yes_thattoo: “ Autistic (NOT with autism) blogging about autism and Autistic life. Runs Because Patterns, writes short stories. White, nonbinary. Teaches math.”
o @TinctureOfMuse: “Blogger in Residence — First World War in the Air, @RAFMuseum Volunteer @MuseumOfLondon, mum of 3, advocate of Autism in Museums”
o @AmySequenzia: “Autistic activist. Non-compliant. Non-normative. Non-conforming. Disabled and proud.”
o @RutiRegan: “JTS rabbinical student. Passionate about the Torah of love and respect. Disability advocate.”
o @RebeccaCokley: “2nd generation disability/civil rights activist and the proud mom of 2 awesome kids.”
o @pcosdeaf: “Educate, empower, & support Deaf women coping and living with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).”
• Because the chat was designed to bring people together, there were few parts of the schedule dedicated to specific disability groups — chats focused on a certain type of disability of disability-related topic are already very prevalent on Twitter. One 30-minute portion of the schedule was dedicated to autism, but the rest were dedicated to a variety of topics. The autism-focused portion of the chat was quite popular and helped showcase a topic on which NMAH does not have extensive collections or digital content. (Judging from participation on July 15, this is a topic not very well represented across the museum field.)
• One survey taker wrote that he or she learned that there is “so much diversity of opinion within the community” from the chat. As a social media manager, I can say this is also something the chat illustrated for me.
#DisabilityStories was a first for NMAH in many ways:
• NMAH presented our first video on the new social network Periscope — 630 people tuned in, which is great for a first attempt! 473 watched live, 158 watched the replay. The video received 917 hearts via replay and 3,863 from live viewers. The Periscope video was about 16 minutes long. On YouTube, the video (8 minutes, with captions) has been viewed over 100 times as of July 28.
• NMAH has participated in Twitter chats such as “Ask a Curator Day,” “Museum Selfie Day,” and “Museum Cats Day.” But we’ve never co-hosted one!
• NMAH has never presented this much content related to disability history at one time. The launch of the everybody.si.edu exhibition was one opportunity to present some of this content, but #DisabilityStories chat was the bigger event.
More information on goals achieved
Better position partners on the radar of people who are passionate about disability stories. Start or re-invigorate meaningful relationships with these audiences.
As a result of the chat, partners waded deeper into the center of conversation about disability art, culture, and history. On a normal day this month, NMAH gets about 20 replies on Twitter. On July 15, we had nearly 90. On a normal day, NMAH gets about 340 re-tweets. On July 15, we had almost 930.
• On an average day this month, NMAH gains 76 followers per day. On July 15, we gained 191.
Increase knowledge about and understanding of disability stories among our audiences on Twitter. Challenge audience members who didn’t think they shared a connection to disability history, art, and culture to explore this topic and realize it is one to which many of us have a connection.
• Many of those who responded to the survey participated in the chat for over an hour. Others stayed for a much shorter period of time. The flexible nature of participation allowed Twitter users to access the program in the way that worked best for them. One participant logged in during her lunch break at work. Another jumped in early, took a break, and then came back later in the day. A third participant missed the chat on the 15th but sorted back through the tweets the following day.
• About 64% of those who responded to the survey reported that their reaction to the chat was “motivation to learn more.”
• About 68% of those who responded to the survey reported that they learned something new. When asked what they learned, survey takers wrote:
o “I discovered lots of museums and online exhibitions on disability history I want to explore.”
o “That there are actually a lot of archival resources pertaining to disability history.”
o “I learned about disability experiences and I found out about more people like me (disabled people) who innovated and made changes or new designs to meet their own needs.”
o “How recent ADA actually is.”
o “I learned about figures from history. I also learned about different opinions from different parts of the disability community. I was happy to learn of museums & other institutions that keep accessibility in mind when designing exhibits, websites, grounds.”
• About 75% of those who responded to the survey reported that the chat made them “think, reflect, question, or wonder.” When asked what they mean by this, they wrote:
o “I reflected on the words I used to describe/discuss disability.”
o “It helped me clarify my mixed feelings about the Americans with Disabilities Act and the different responses to it in the disability community.”
o “I want to learn more about presidents’ disabilities and interactions with people with disabilities.”
o “I’m a curatorial intern (aspiring museum curator), and I need to be thinking about how people approach the museum and its exhibitions and space.”
o “It was nice as I didn’t feel so alone.”
Illustrate that the partners value disability content and reinforce the message that disability stories are valuable. Position the partners as influencers — they are institutions that are good at listening, valuing audience members’ passions and questions.
• Survey takers valued both the institutional voices and individual voices that participated. Favorites included: “Both the organized chats with PWDs and the individual tweeps’ stories.” “I appreciated how many US Government departments and museums participated.” “So many people joined worldwide, and it wasn’t just museums but also individuals”
Promote upcoming ADA programming that will take place both on-site and online, showcasing our content and expertise.
• About 60% of those who took the survey said that the chat got them interested in engaging with other disability-related content, events, exhibitions, and programs.
My secret goals: Help social media managers at museums around the world improve their skills in communicating about this topic. Increase their familiarity with the audiences and topics within disability history, art, and culture. Increase likelihood of these social media managers bringing more #DisabilityStories content into their editorial calendars, beyond ADA 25.
• Hearing directly from audience members and fitting NMAH disability content into 140 characters was a great social media boot camp! We’re now better prepared to more thoroughly incorporate disability stories into our editorial calendar, well beyond the anniversary of the ADA.
• It’s a good thing that the New Media Dept. at NMAH feels excited to share more #DisabilityStories content. About 77% of people who responded to the survey say they would like to see more #DisabilityStories tweets in the future — and they will!
• Fellow social media managers, how do YOU feel about this goal? Will you be more or less likely to share #DisabilityStories type content with your audiences?
Appendix: Most shared content during #DisabilityStories
The most re-tweeted tweets during the conversation:
1. @NMAAHC: Blind Tom was an enslaved pianist prodigy & the 1st black performer to play at the @WhiteHouse. #DisabilityStories http://t.co/EnY0pzX955
2. @amhistcurator: Group of friends fingerspell â€œL-O-V-E,â€ mid-20th century. #DisabilityStories #ADA25 http://t.co/KkVzdpRMXm
3. @amhistorymuseum: The overlooked importance of curb cuts and the protests that led to them: http://t.co/Gt3oltoDci #DisabilityStories http://t.co/bZu2ChCD01
4. @Guggenheim: Picasso, Pissarro, Monet, Manet & Cezanne interpreted through #ASL. Watch: http://t.co/hdLIVOZzdX #DisabilityStories http://t.co/23tO9ccSVA
5. @amhistorymuseum: Good morning! Today is #DisabilityStories. Follow that tag & @amhistcurator for discussion of #disability arts, culture, history.
6. @britishmuseum: BSL object videos include highlights like the Rosetta Stone #DisabilityStories @CultureThemes http://t.co/aw0A7VeguX http://t.co/UdLFlbgOqv
7. @smithsonian: 3 medical inventions that have changed the lives of thousands http://t.co/g7P0gpkgua #DisabilityStories http://t.co/SKf9sgZW2r
8. @RutiRegan: Disability is part of the human condition, not a metaphor for it. #DisabilityStories
9. @Jennison: The #diversity in #tech discussion currently seems to exclude ppl w/ disabilities working in IT. This needs to change. #disabilitystories
Top re-tweeted tweets from NMAH:
1. The overlooked importance of curb cuts and the protests that led to them: http://t.co/Gt3oltoDci #DisabilityStories http://t.co/bZu2ChCD01
2. Good morning! Today is #DisabilityStories. Follow that tag & @amhistcurator for discussion of #disability arts, culture, history.
3. Museums often use tactile modes for #accessibility. History & challenges: http://t.co/9rAtS0LbRc #DisabilityStories http://t.co/KUTLs6y3KX
4. 1960s #DisabilityRights activists rallied for equality, principles made law via ADA in 1990: http://t.co/N8WhSRP4D3 http://t.co/Aaj9kR9sfy
5. Disability history is a peopleâ€™s history. @amhistcurator’s online exhibit: http://t.co/Vwft19lxqw #DisabilityStories http://t.co/aeLJBg895K
6. The ADA does not just impact the lives of those with disabilities. Ramps, curb cuts, elevators are used by all of us. #DisabilityStories
7. ‘For the 1st time, disability was looked at as an issue of civil rights rather than charity.’ http://t.co/3H3Vzh3iRr #DisabilityStories
8. Nicknamed “the Condemned Yanks” and “Cripple Brigade,” the story of the army’s Invalid Corps: http://t.co/ORLFPmnESa #DisabilityStories
9. In #DisabilityStories, you may see the acronym “ADA.” That’s the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s 25 this month! http://t.co/N8WhSRP4D3
10. How did people in the 1700s understand mental illness? The example of Patrick Henry’s wife: http://t.co/JSE0JkNoVw #DisabilityStories
Tweets by Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation (@SI_Invention) that earned the most impressions:
1. Today, we’re sharing invention-related #DisabilityStories. Follow @amhistorymuseum for more http://t.co/4aI51SvdDo [5744 impressions]
2. How does @smithsonian make our exhibits accessible? Blog on mobility features @amhistorymuseum: http://t.co/eXNuzFvYp5 
3. The AcceleGlove translates the alphabet and over 300 words in American Sign Language. #DisabilityStories http://t.co/ptG684lRPK 
4. Krysta Morlan, who has cerebral palsy, invented the Waterbike to make physical therapy more fun #DisabilityStories http://t.co/EQrJeLMUQM 
5. Phillips’s invention, the Flex-Foot, was inspired by a cheetah & made of carbob-fiber #DisabilityStories http://t.co/ZifzMtx6h6 
6. Today, we’re sharing invention-related #DisabilityStories. Follow @amhistorymuseum for more http://t.co/kqF5B05U5 
7. Glass eyes broke easily, didn’t move & weren’t custom-fitted. Plastic eliminated these problems http://t.co/i6Lp7NXq2R #DisabilityStories 
8. What can Julia Child’s kitchen teach us about accessible design? Find out in this podcast: http://t.co/aVBfIczySW #universaldesign 
9. Dr. Jose Hernandez-Rebollar invented the AcceleGlove, can turn American Sign Language gestures into spoken words or text. #DisabilityStories 
10. Today, we’re sharing invention-related #DisabilityStories. Follow @amhistorymuseum for more http://t.co/9Xxz4qKEdK 
On July 15, Lemelson Center had over 12,400 impressions, a high number during the 28 days around the tweetup.
@CultureThemes also earned a lot of impressions on July 15.
Appendix: Important links
• NMAH blog posts on disability themes: http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog?term_node_tid_depth=183
• Storify 1 featuring @amhistcurator: https://storify.com/americanhistory/amhistcurator
• Storify 2 featuring @FDRLibrary: https://storify.com/americanhistory/fdrlibrary
• Storify 3 featuring @Bush41Library: https://storify.com/americanhistory/disabilitystories-chat-with-bush41library
• Storify 4 featuring @VSAIntl: https://storify.com/americanhistory/the-kennedy-center-s-office-of-vsa-and-accessibili
• Storify 5 featuring @tinygracenotes: https://storify.com/americanhistory/ibby-grace-tinygracenotes-discusses-autism-and-dis
• Storify 6 featuring @VSAIntl: https://storify.com/americanhistory/vsaintl
• Storify 7 featuring @DisVisibility: https://storify.com/americanhistory/alice-wong-tweets
• Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/135242806808517/
• YouTube version of Periscope video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=--uk-8aKpDA
Appendix: Major thanks!
I want to sincerely thank everyone who participated—NMAH's group of partners, museums that responded to CultureThemes' call for participation, people at organizations around the world, and all the voices who spoke up and shared a story or listened for a while. I've never worked on a project quite like this before and want to extend sincere appreciation to everyone who offered support, advice, guidance, humor, and caffeine. Thanks, everyone!
Sources: I used TweetReach, TweetArchivist, Twitter analytics, Hootsuite, Tagul, Topsy, SurveyGizmo, and elbow grease to get these stats. Caveat: I’m horrible at math, so probably most of my percentage calculations are wrong. Sorry!
A note on accessibility: I’ve tried to give a little description for the images and screenshots used in this report. Let me know if I should be more descriptive. Still getting the hang of this!
Additional tags: Museum Education, #musesocial, #ITweetMuseums, Americans with Disabilities Act, #ADA25, Smithsonian, Museum, Analytics, Data, Metrics, Twitter.
Note: I’m a federal employee. No domestic copyright protection under U.S. law. Feel free to share. However, the screenshots I’ve used in this report weren’t created by me (see Sources above). So I don’t know exactly what their copyright status is. If you do, let me know and I can adjust accordingly! Thanks!