Accessibility in Museums: bringing down barriers
[noun: accessibility definition: the quality of being able to be reached or entered]
‘Accessibility allows us to tap into everyone’s potential’ – Debra Ruh (founder of TecAccess providing accessible software and advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities).
According to government statistics, by 2012 the number of disabled people in the UK had risen to over 11 million. This makes up a substantial proportion of our population, our public. When viewed as organisations aiming to engage and enrich the lives of this public, it then follows that museums need to work on becoming more accessible to everyone – working to overcome any potential barriers people may face.
Ayscoughfee Hall Museum and Gardens
During my time at Ayscoughfee, I have had the chance to engage with a number of access projects.
The ‘11 Million Reasons to Dance Project’ worked to encourage diversity in the arts. As host to the project’s touring photography exhibition, Ayscoughfee was able to be a site of both inspiration for potential dancers, and to work towards broadening people’s view of those living with a disability. The exhibition provided information as to how disabled people could gain access to cultural dance projects and encouraged a more diverse audience to come to the museum.
Spalding Safe Spaces also works towards making the museum more accessible – in this case being more concerned with mental disability. Through this project, the museum encourages vulnerable individuals to utilise its provision of a peaceful, reflective environment for them to utilise.
I am now working with the museum to produce a series of interpretation leaflets for both the building and gardens translated into Braille, making the museum site and collection more accessible to people with visual impairments. If a success, the leaflets may be followed by a number of room boards, also being translated into Braille and dotted around the various museum rooms.
Barry Ginley [writing for Disability Studies Quarterly Journal vol33 no.3 2013] says:
‘Accessing museums has been difficult for people who are blind or partially sighted, often due to objects being placed in glass cases creating a barrier to access. Many museums around the world provide some accessibility but what happens when a museum looks at the issue in its entirety and sees blind and partially sighted visitors as important as everyone else.’
Ayscoughfee recognises that more accessibility work needs to be done, and through this current project hopes to improve the museums offer towards those with visual impairments.
By Elsa Trueman, Resilience Syndicate Intern at Ayscoughfee Hall Museum and Gardens