Access at Mission San Luis

Mission San Luis, a National Historic Landmark site located in Tallahassee, Florida, was one of more than 100 mission settlements established in Spanish Florida between the 1560s and 1690s. Between 1656 and 1704, more than 1,400 Apalachee Indians and Spaniards lived at the mission. San Luis was a principal village of the Apalachee Indians and home of one of their most powerful leaders. San Luis was also the Spaniards' westernmost military, religious, and administrative headquarters. In 1983, the State of Florida purchased the property where the mission was located and began the research necessary to begin to present its story to the public. This story has been developed by painstaking archaeological excavations as well as through the translation of 17th- and 18th-century documents from Spanish archives. San Luis is the most thoroughly documented and archaeologically investigated mission in the Southeast.

In 2001, work began to install a new visitor orientation exhibit in the Messer House, a 20th-century structure located on the site. Completed in May 2002, the Visitor Center orientation exhibit at Mission San Luis provides visitors with an orientation to the site and an introduction to a subject and time period that is unfamiliar to many visitors. Its various elements prepare the audience for their tour of the National Historic Landmark site, the reconstructed buildings, and the ongoing costumed living history program that they will encounter. There are numerable hands-on, touch, and smell opportunities outside in the living history area including furnishings, buildings, gardens, costumes, and more. This exhibit provides a framework for beginning to understand the complexities of a multi-cultural 17th-century community.

The orientation video is closed captioned, but does not have audio description at this time. Mission San Luis has identified this as an area needing improvement. They are currently planning to either add audio description utilizing wands or possibly create a whole new video. The entire exhibit text is presented in both Spanish and English, including the audio tour. The audio tour utilizes T-Coil Compatible Listening Wands which interact with T-Coil-enabled hearing aids to boost sound for visitors with mild to moderate hearing loss. There is an audio-descriptive site orientation tour for people who are blind or who have low vision, scripted by a staff member trained by The Washington Ear, a non-profit organization providing reading and information services. This tour includes further information such as exhibit text, room layout and description of tactile items. Written text for all audio elements is provided in both English and Spanish.

The exhibit includes hands-on interactive elements that enhance the story for all visitors, including a bronze three-dimensional topographic map of the site and recreated archaeology profiles that enable visitors to both see and touch artifacts. The visitor brochure and site guide, as well as the 193-page book on Mission San Luis, have been translated into Braille. A large print version is also available. The outdoor site itself has accessible pathways to the Visitor Center and to the recreated historic buildings. The interior orientation exhibit, gift shop and theatre are designed to accommodate easy mobility for visitors using wheelchairs. Accessible public restrooms and water fountains are also available.

It is the intent of the interpretive plan that the visitor, armed with a clear outline provided by the visitor center exhibit, can move outside to the site and its reconstructed buildings and recreated landscapes. The living history program is by nature an experiential process for the visitor. Visitors are encouraged to use their senses, to touch, and to ask questions. The living history staff demonstrates crafts and seasonal activities and explains that they too are part of the process of discovering more about the mission community.

Accessibility is a key element of the design and content of Mission San Luis. Bringing the rich story of the Mission's past to the widest possible audience is a goal that informed many of the decisions reached by the team of archaeologists, curators, designers, educators, consultants, and fabricators who collaborated on a new orientation exhibit that opened in May 2002. With input and assistance from the Florida Division of Blind Services Director Craig Kiser and staff, the exhibit includes hands-on interactive elements that enhance the tour experience for all visitors.

Synergy Design of Tallahassee, Florida, exhibit designers, and Creative Arts Unlimited of Pinellas Park, Florida, exhibit fabricators, were instrumental in the planning and implementation of the exhibit's accessibility features. 


Synergy Design Group
1110 Capital Circle Northeast, Suite G
Tallahassee, FL 32301
(850) 513-1900

Creative Arts Unlimited
730 70th Ave N.
Pinellas Park, FL 33781
(727) 525-2066

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Karin Stanford on the description of Mission San Luis. If you would like further information, please contact her at:
Mission San Luis
2020 W. Mission Road
Tallahassee, Fl 32304


The citation for this article is:

National Center on Accessibility.  (October 2004).  Access at Mission San Luis.  Making the Grade.  Indiana University-Bloomington: National Center on Accessibility.