Case Study: collaboration to open museums doors wider for people with disabilities

The challenges

Around 105,000 of Devon’s adult residents live with a disability, according to 2011 Devon County Council statistics. It can be hard for people with disabilities and their carers to take advantage of the region’s natural and cultural highlights.  A day out can mean encountering out-of-reach toilets, steps at crucial sites, out-of-order lifts, or no calm space if anyone needs a moment to wind down. Paid carers’ shifts rarely allow time for planning activities to overcome potential obstacles, and many carers lack the confidence and energy to try new places.

RAMM is striving to be reliably accessible. There are level surfaces into and around the whole building, spacious gender-neutral toilets, and thought has gone into designing signs, displays and online materials. Although the museum has a wealth of experience in nurturing wellbeing, it needs to learn more about designing appropriate interactive experiences for people with less coordination or verbal capacity.

The background

A variety of disability support organisations operate in Exeter – each with valuable knowledge and experience, and a trustworthy reputation among people with disabilities and carers. Many of these groups use RAMM on an occasional – even regular – basis.

Museums have the potential to inspire meaningful interaction. The environment is free from institutional baggage and can be both stimulating and relaxing. RAMM is attempting include more people with disabilities in the mainstream activities of the museum, and has partnered with Heritage Lottery Funded project Heritage-Ability.

The project

RAMM worked alongside disability support organisations – CEDA, Magic Carpet and Pelican Project – to co-design a monthly programme of visits. Each visit started with a picture quiz card to encourage exploration of a particular gallery, then a short museum-themed activity, and ended with relaxed time for refreshments and creative feedback.

RAMM is keen to develop expertise in co-creation, combining its skills in telling objects’ stories and creating enjoyable museum experiences with the perspectives and requirements of people with varying disabilities.

Each picture bingo card was created between sessions by one of the partner organisations, with staff facilitating the active input of participants with disabilities. The museum activities ranged from opportunities to handle African masks or World War Two objects to experiencing a magic lantern slide show, hands-on creative time after a contemporary art exhibition, and meeting a live Roman soldier.

The project brought together organisations working in the same field, who often share clients but rarely communicated before. The three main partners reached out to others in the region, and enjoyed talking to each other.

RAMM has been developing the space as focus of conversation and sociable activities, building on the evidence that museums can have a significant impact on people’s wellbeing. It is contributing to research into how museums can improve relationships between people who require assistance and their carers.

What do people say?

“The game was easy – nice to see some friends.” Visitor with disabilities

“More musical instruments and more things to touch, please.” Carer

“It’s lovely to see social time for carers. It’s an opportunity for them to chat about their… work and exchange.” Pelican Project

What next?

RAMM is developing the co-created bingo cards into a professionally produced series which will be available to any audience which might enjoy them, including visitors with disabilities, tourists, families, and anyone else open to playful exploration.

RAMM hopes to continue to learn with and from visitors with disabilities to create multisensory activities and spaces for the museum, providing another way for visitors to engage with the multitude of stories and themes it houses.

Further information

Ruth Gidley

Engagement Officer, RAMM

[email protected]

T 01392 265305