By Rachel Ingram – Head of Learning and Programmes, Museums Wellington
This blog was originally delivered as part of the Arts Access Aotearoa Panel at the 2017
Museums Aotearoa Conference: He Waka Eke Noa, Museums of Inclusion.
The topic was ‘Diversity and Disability: Including who? Including how?’
In 2014 Wellington Museum was at the beginning of our accessibility journey, and at the same time our thinking around proposed exhibition – The Attic – was taking shape. We were naively assuming that accessibility was something we would achieve, and hadn’t quite realised it was something we would always be working towards. Our approach, although well intentioned, largely involved doing it for the disabled community. Thankfully, and with perfect timing, it was at this stage our relationship with Arts Access Aotearoa and the Arts For All Network began.
We were given a first edition printed out copy of Arts For All and seized on particular pages of the book Getting Started, First Steps, Ten Things You Can Do Now, What Words to Use, and Where to Go For Advice and Information. Our thinking began to change.
We attended an Arts For All Network hui and met members of the disability sector. Our thinking changed a little further. We were chatting with the team from Arts Access Aotearoa about an Accessibility Policy for our Museums when the Attic came into the conversation. They suggested the Museum host a Network hui, share our plans and ask for input. Our practice began to change.
Our designer brought a tactile scale model of the floor and the display cabinets/furniture to the hui. He talked the Network through his designs and they fed back to him. The hui was constructive and collaborative. Network members with lived, familial or community experience, along with representative organisations, talked through all aspects of the design, answered questions, and gave information on guidelines and minimum requirements. They introduced us to Standard 4121, suggested contacts and readings, and told us about their experiences and how we could incorporate or learn from them. They were positive about the thinking to date, and encouraging about what we could aspire to – what would be the very best we could do at this time for this exhibition.
Our designer acknowledges The Attic is what it is due to the conversations he had with the group. He credits these as making him both aware and mindful of accessible design aspects and has indicated that without the network’s input The Attic would have been vastly different. He notes that the feedback the network gave him has resulted in a more accessible/inclusive experience for all. These days Standard 4121 is embedded in his thinking and community consultation is a natural part of any planning process.
The curatorial team speak from a content point of view. For them, thinking around interpretation and story selection were enhanced at the hui. It was here they realised the importance of engaging with the disability sector, planning with a person not for them.
This led them to collaborate with World Champion swimmer and Paralympian Mary Fisher on an exhibition in The Attic, and not only that, but after the opening, for them to work together again to make adjustments that would improve the experience for visitors who are blind or with low vision.
What are our learnings from The Arts for All hui regarding The Attic development?
1. Engage with the disability sector/Arts For All Network early in the process
2. Keep communicating throughout the process, and afterwards
Or more simply put: CONNECT, LISTEN, STAY IN TOUCH
To hammer it home the Network gave and continues to give us:
- The opportunity to form and maintain relationships
- The opportunity to listen
- Support and learning
- Connections and networks
- The opportunity to participate in training
- Next steps in our accessibility journey
Finally, and this is key, before the hui we had accessibility champions in the Museum – now we have relationships with disabled people and disability organisations, and a culture of accessibility and inclusion.