Being totally blind, I often think that I have my greatest impact as an advocate for inclusion in the museum simply because I am here. When exhibitions and events are being planned it is really hard to forget the needs of visually impaired people with me sitting there asking how I will be able to participate.
With this in mind, I am now looking into the possibility of recruiting an intern who uses British Sign Language. The idea is for them to work on a mainstream existing project, e.g. events associated with our forthcoming WWI exhibition, and thereby gain skills and experience that will help them in their search for permanent work. In the process though, I hope they will stimulate increased interest in the needs of visitors whose first language is BSL.
In the late 1970’s I went with a group of visually impaired people to a “special” event at the Tate. It was a sculpture exhibition. As far as I remember, we were each given a sighted guide who showed us round and described the objects. We were also allowed to touch the sculptures, after dipping our hands into bowls of talcum powder. Since then (and probably a long time before) there have been countless similar “special” access events at museums and galleries all over the country. We run them here in Bristol quite often.
I now believe that “special” events for “special” people do more harm than good, because they don’t really widen participation and they don’t change the museum. Instead, I think we should focus our efforts on giving a fantastic, user-friendly experience to everyone who comes through our doors, including all the disabled people who come in every day and go round un-noticed. That means providing the things I talked about in my previous post called “A matter of interpretation”.
I am not saying we should never provide “special” events, but we should stop relying on them to meet the needs of disabled people.