Autism in Museum: Accessibility for All
As April is National Autism Month and the 2nd April was world Autism Day, we thought this would be a great time to inform all our visitors and users about some of the amazing things we are trying to achieve for when we are officially open to the public once again.
Wherever possible Sandwell Museums have tried to offer an inclusive accessible offer to all our visitors who have a wide range of needs or disabilities. However, due to the conservation, protection and preservation of our listed buildings and the nature of those buildings (wobbly staircases. low lighting, small spaces etc) and the nature of our resources and capacity we have found that sometimes this can be challenging, and difficult to achieve as well or comprehensively as we would like. We are unable to install a lift in the Oak House due to its size and importance or into Bromwich Hall at the moment.
We have, however, adapted how we run some of our brilliant events, by hosting them on ground level, developing pathways for visitors to move around the grounds and buildings and where possible we offer ramps to help visitors access at least some of the building and virtual tours of upper floors or less accessible spaces so visitors can see as much as possible. We do however ,want to do more, where we are able.
One of the many projects that Sandwell Museum and Art Service is working on right now is to make our main museum sites more accessible to those with invisible disabilities. We all know many of the things needed in terms of accessibility for physical disabilities: lifts and ramps for wheelchairs, hearing aid loops, staff awareness. However, there’s far more that can be done for those who have invisible disabilities. Our focus for the start of this project is to work on accessibility for those with Autism or Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC). In October 2019, two members of staff attended the official “Welcoming Families and Young People with Autism Training” at the Jewish Museum in London.
Locally and nationally, museums and other heritage sites are recognising that people with ASC and their families need unique circumstances and support to be able to enjoy, access and engage with these places in the same way as others. This is confirmed by the National Autistic Society who have found that 70% of families who have a child with ASC feel socially isolated and that 28% of similar families have been asked to leave a public place because of their child. The last statistic shows that there’s still quite a lot that people don’t understand about Autism or ASC.
At the beginning of the year all of Sandwell Museum staff who deal with the public attended Autism Awareness training provided by Autism West Midlands. Staff found the training useful and thought provoking, and went away thinking about how they can develop or change certain things to make the buildings they work in, accessible for those with autism and their families!
Autism can best be summarised through three issues: difficulties with social communication and interaction, restrictive and repetitive patterns of behaviour and limited flexibility of thought. There are many misconceptions around Autism and in general those with ASC.
Those who are sensory seekers may love that the Richard’s Gallery at Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery it is a wide-open space with lots of different colours. However, sensory avoiders may be completely put-off by even the hint of an echo. That’s why we are creating special resources for the project; it’s not about making the museums the perfect environment but doing as much as we can to allow someone with ASC or their family to decide whether a trip to one of our buildings would be suitable or not.
With the help of a graduate trainee we are in the process of completing several aids and guides that would help us support visitors who have autism and their families. These include developing sensory maps, visual journey videos and adapting our events to introduce a quiet hour.
Please keep an eye on our social media for announcements and details of our developments and information concerning our Invisible Disability programme.
Alex, Arts and Projects Officer