Monthly Archives: June 2014

Doing what comes naturally

Common sense and intuition are really useful in all kinds of everyday situations. When it comes to Access and Inclusion though, the right thing to do is often counter intuitive. For example, if you have to physically guide a visually impaired person from A to B for the first time, you may assume that you should take their arm and gently steer them to where they need to go. However, as a visually impaired person I can tell you it is very scary being pushed through the world ahead of someone. It is much better to ask the visually impaired person how they want to be guided. Often they will want to take your arm and walk half a step behind you. In that position they can relax more and simply follow your movements.

Similarly with guiding a visually impaired person up and down stairs. Most people instinctively want to count the stairs and tell the visually impaired person how many there are. It just seems to make sense. However, believe it or not, many people don’t include the top and bottom steps when counting, so it can be misleading and potentially dangerous. The really important thing, which most people don’t think to mention, is whether the flight of stairs is going up or down!

I could give more examples of misguided common sense ideas about people with other impairments. For example, the idea that it is appropriate to communicate with deaf people by shouting at them. You probably get the point by now though.

Common sense is no substitute for high quality training, delivered wherever possible by the people directly concerned.


Access all areas

I took the name for this post from a conference that was held on Monday at Eureka: the National Children’s Museum, which is in Halifax. It expresses a fundamental principle about museums – that all aspects of the Service should be user-friendly.

Below is a statement on access that we produced in Bristol last year, to explain exactly what we mean by it, and what we aspire to. That’s not to say we always achieve our aspirations, but we are trying.

Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives

Access Statement

  • Fair
  • Inclusive
  • Equitable
  • Flexible
  • Responsive

 We believe good access benefits everyone and our goal is that diverse people find all aspects of our service user-friendly.

By “access” we mean being able to benefit from all that is on offer. This includes the following dimensions of our work:-

Physical – for example being able to navigate the building

Intellectual – for example being able to engage with the interpretation

Social – for example being able to take part in events

Cultural – for example having their faith needs recognized (i.e. when displays include nudity, objects regarded as sacred, human remains, etc).

In practice, access work covers the following areas:

  • Environment (Sites and buildings)
  • Collections and the objects we exhibit
  • Interpretation
  • Programming
  • Technology
  • Marketing and publicity
  • Learning opportunities
  • Language and terminology
  • Retail services

By ‘diversity’ we mean people’s differences across gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic background, cultural background, disability, faith, sexual orientation and learning styles.

We constantly ask the question “If we do it this way, who will we be disabling” and “how can we enable them instead?”

We strive to meet the access needs of all users as we believe that people’s access needs are their access needs and we should not expect them to fit in with us. In so doing, we plan to give everyone the same or an alternative equitable experience.

We recognise that people have different access needs at different times and in different situations and that people often fall into more than one category which will affect their access needs, e.g. they may be disabled and under 5.

We work in partnership with diverse communities and individuals to develop access and involve users with particular access needs in the development process.

Our access work is informed by the Equalities Act 2010, Bristol City Council’s Integrated Equalities Policy and Equalities Impact Assessments.


(For the Access All Areas conference information see



Good for one, good for autistic people?

In the June issue of the National Museum Directors’ Council (NMDC) Newsletter there is a link to a very useful blog about events for families with autistic children. As I have said previously, I am not in favour of museums relying on “special” events to meet the needs of disabled visitors. However, sometimes they are appropriate and this blog is really helpful to anyone thinking of organising them. Moreover, there is plenty of useful stuff to help museums ensure their general provision is user-friendly for autistic people.