Kate Johnson (L); Becki Morris

The conversation

Kate Johnson; Becki Morris, Issue 119/07, 01.07.2019
What should museums be doing to better meet the needs of people with disabilities? 
Dear Kate: 

Anyone can acquire a chronic condition or disability, have an undiagnosed neurodivergent profile, or become D/deaf or hard of hearing, blind or partially sighted. Therefore, it is important that processes in the heritage sector are for service provision, but also to reflect and support the workforce. The Disability Collaborative Network has been working with several agencies, charities and organisations to understand the social and economic barriers to museum engagement, as well as to look at what we can do as a sector to create intersectional, inclusive practice, at minimum cost to the organisation. 

Best wishes, Becki

Dear Becki: 

Museums must improve the under-representation of people with disabilities in the workforce. A recent review found that 6% of the National Museums Liverpool team identified as having a disability (compared with 14% of the northwest population), reflecting the national picture. We formed an equality, diversity and inclusion group and staff networks, including one for mental health and disability, to identify clear action to improve workforce diversity. 

 We aim to address barriers in the recruitment, retention and progression of people with disabilities. Increasing representation of disabled people and valuing their lived experience also deepens organisational understanding of how to improve the experience for disabled visitors. 

Best wishes, Kate

Dear Kate: 

This is key to the authentic voice and the day-to-day experience of people in engaging in public spaces. We often speak about wellbeing in museums, but the emotional impact and recognition of barriers are huge, particularly in their removal or the development of key projects where people feel included and acknowledged. 

 The government consultation on Changing Places toilet facilities for museums and heritage organisations will be key for the 250,000 people who need them. It’s vital that the heritage sector becomes systematic in its approach to inclusive practice. 

Best wishes, Becki

Dear Becki: 

The Museum of Liverpool has benefited from advice from access consultants and consultation with local disability charity and community organisations. Museums must plan beyond specific projects and think about how to integrate inclusive practice in the longer term. 

Developing long-term, meaningful relationships with partners helps us to make continual improvements to our public offer. For example, our relationship with the charity Autism Together has vastly improved our offer for neurodiverse visitors. These relationships also ensure that we consider diverse representation in our collections, exhibitions and events, often through collaboration and co-production. 

Best wishes, Kate

Dear Kate: 

We champion organisations such as the Museum of Liverpool and support others to identify how they can be more inclusive and challenge barriers to participation. It’s important to identify how the sector is moving forward, particularly with the participation and engagement of audiences and non-audiences. 

But we still have work to do in relation to inclusive marketing, representation, accessible websites and raising the profile of inclusive practice. Recognition within the heritage sector for this work, particularly via awards, will be key in moving forward. 

Best wishes, Becki

Dear Becki: 

There’s work to be done, particularly to address the under-representation of disability histories and narratives. Screen South’s Accentuate programme has made great progress in highlighting disability histories through the History of Place project, which involved several museums working with local partners to highlight deaf and disabled people’s history. The project produced useful resources such as guides and toolkits (historyof.place). 

Best wishes, Kate

Becki Morris is the director of the Disability Collaborative Network for Museums 

Kate Johnson is the deputy director of the Museum of Liverpool, which has been named as the UK’s most accessible heritage attraction 

Comments

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15.08.2019, 13:33
As a disabled museum professional, I can't even get into one of our museums because we don't have a lift. While applauding the recognition of addressing the varied and complex needs for those who have some sort of disability, discussing exhibitions about the history of disability is 'waaay down my wish list. So how about championing the little museums instead? Give non-national museums money to make them more accessible. That's a good start. Then maybe I can actually visit the exhibitions I help to curate and engage with audiences of every kind.
05.07.2019, 16:11
Great conversation and long may it continue.
The benefits to everyone in having a truly diverse, well supported and encouraged workforce must surely be obvious. Any outreach to widening audiences can only come from a widening pool within, to better reflect real lives and real experiences.