Five things I’ve learnt about accessible events

Disabled Access Day takes place tomorrow. It’s a day about getting out there and trying something new! The Science Museum in London was recently named as one of the most accessible tourist attractions in Britain so we asked one of their Special Event Developers, Claire Hazell, to share their advice on how they do it.

Being a Special Events Developer means that my team and I write, develop and present a large programme of events aimed at families during holidays and weekends. We also run a variety of events aimed at making the Science Museum accessible to everyone. During my time I have learnt a lot about museums and their role in accessibility, here are my top five things:

1) There is a big difference between accessible and inclusive

Presenter signs
Presenter signs “Galaxy”. Everyone who attends the show learns a few science related signs.

Our deaf-led SIGNtific programme is a great example of an accessible and inclusive event. The science shows, storytelling sessions and workshops are all presented in British Sign Language and are suitable for both deaf and hearing visitors. They are on during the day and advertised to everyone that comes into the museum. It’s a great way to increase deaf awareness in hearing children and to include deaf children and adults in museum activities.

Our Early Birds early morning Autism event is different. The museum opens early five times a year for families with children on the autistic spectrum. The museum is quieter and there are tailored events and activities for the families. This event is accessible but does not include everyone. This is because it can’t include everyone; the reason we open it up to families early and make the spaces limited is so that the museum is quieter and has less going on. Families asked us to run the event this way and our research has shown us that this is the right environment for their needs.

2) Accessible means different things to different people

Gallery at the Science Museum
(photo credit)

Every visitor that comes to the museum wants to get something different out of their visit. From finding their favourite object, or enjoying a new gallery to just finding a toilet!

Making the museum accessible can mean different things for everyone. It could just mean giving someone a map so they can find their way around but it could also mean coming to an event which has provision for their needs. We try to make the museum accessible for as many people as possible and we are always willing to take suggestions and listen to what our visitors want from us.

3) Don’t make assumptions

Interactive gallery
Launch pad (photo credit Heather Cowper)

While planning for a recent Early Birds session we did some research and found out that sensitivity to loud noises was common among children on the Autistic spectrum. We decided that we should turn off all loud noises and try and keep the museum as quiet as possible. We had planned to turn on one of our large engines and as such included this in our visual story. Families were able to avoid the engine as it was only turned on late in the session. What we found was that lots of families loved seeing and listening to the engine and talking to our engineers about the engine. We assumed that this wouldn’t be the case because of some research we had carried out.

We soon realised that we should never assume and we use this attitude in all our new developments and make sure we look at developments from every angle and assume nothing!

4) You can’t do it alone

Where do you start when trying to run an event when you don’t know much about what the event would need?

You start with people that would know. When we developed our new audio described event we spoke to local councils, charities, specialist organisations, schools, other museums, and of course families themselves. The information from these groups was invaluable and will help the team provide a new event that opens up the museum and its collection to even more people.

5) Taking the first step is hard but the rewards are worth it

Convo 800x392All our events had to start somewhere. A brainstorm, a query from a visitor or an idea you have just before you go to sleep. But turning that first idea into an event can be daunting and sometimes scary.

All our events have amazing teams that run them and supportive managers to coordinate them. It is always an amazing accomplishment to open the door for an event for the first time. I loved seeing the smiles on the faces of the families when they came into the museum for our first Early Birds session, and I still find it amazing to see children communicating with our deaf presenters in sign language. I’ll end with a quote from one of them:

“SIGNtific is fantastic at encouraging children to learn about science without realising they are learning, a brilliant opportunity for deaf and hearing children and their parents to talk and share their experiences after the events. It is always a thrill to be a role model to all children at the events!”

Find out more about accessibility at the Science Museum.

Get involved with Disabled Access Day.

 “No amount of safeguarding will ever be enough”

JulietIn this guest blog post, Juliet Marlow, a disability rights campaigner and member of Not Dead Yet UK, explains why she is against legalising assisted suicide. Not Dead Yet UK is today protesting against the Assisted Dying Bill outside the House of Parliament.

Lord Falconer’s Private Member’s Bill proposing the legalisation of doctor-assisted suicide (AS) for those with six months or less to live will receive its third reading in the House of Lords today, Friday 16 January.

This isn’t the first time the matter has been debated. Every few years somebody will make the proposal only for it to be nervously put aside. But this time feels different. Despite its controversial nature it seems the idea has somehow caught public imagination and there is a very real chance that this time it could become law.

My name is Juliet. I’m 44, married, a PhD student and freelance writer. I sing in a rock/pop band and mostly love my life. I have been disabled since I was four; I use a wheelchair and rely on PAs to assist me with pretty much everything. I am also passionately opposed to the legalisation of AS.

On the surface, AS doesn’t look that unreasonable. People know that sick and disabled people have had to fight hard for control of our own lives so naturally they assume we want to control our deaths too.

Not Dead Yet

I am proud to belong to the anti-AS campaign group Not Dead Yet UK. Most of us have personal experience of disability and our reasons for opposing the Bill will vary. But our core arguments are that it is unnecessary and unsafe. No amount of safeguarding will ever be enough to protect all vulnerable people, all the time. And that is a terrifying thought for those of us who face illness and death every day.

Sympathy and fear are the pro-AS lobby’s weapons of choice. Sympathy is hard to fight because some of their campaigners genuinely want to try and prevent future suffering.  Nevertheless, I respectfully suggest they have missed the point – it is society that robs people of a ‘good death’, not illness. With proper pain medication and decent patient-centred palliative care, a ‘good death’ can be had. It’s never easy but it can be effectively managed to prevent unnecessary suffering.

Fear is much harder to counteract. People will die in pain and distress unless the authorities ensure all terminally ill people get the palliative support they need.  It is no coincidence that at a time of savage public funding cuts, the AS question has raised its ugly head again. It is because the misguided belief that society will always take care of its most vulnerable citizens has been tarnished, exposed as a lie.

Life not death

Our solution is not to control when and how we die, but to focus on life rather than death. We choose to campaign, protest and fight until the authorities introduce a cast-iron, needs-led end-of-life service that allows each of us to live to our natural end without pain and imagined ‘loss of dignity’.

The suggestion that dignity is lost through illness and can only be reclaimed by controlling the manner of your death is not only ignorant, but insulting to disabled people who have fought to build a meaningful life. If there is any loss of dignity then it is inflicted; it is not a natural state that can be avoided by dying early. I want support to live, not to die!

The pro-AS campaign claims that the Bill has nothing to do with disability. They are at best being naïve, at worst underhand. It has everything to do with disability. After all, it is only when terminal illness threatens to become disabling that AS is even considered. The high profile cases of the late Debbie Purdy and Tony Nicklinson demonstrate how much disability informs the whole issue. Ironically neither of those people would have qualified for AS under the current wording of the Bill, which gives credibility to our belief that once in place the legislation will be modified to include more people – what we call the ‘slippery slope’ effect. Once a line has been crossed any incremental changes to the qualifying criteria can and will be passed with little resistance.

Becoming a burden

Another concern is that coercion is not always obvious. It is subtle, creeping and sometimes even unintentional. The fear of becoming a burden to our loved ones is real, especially now as an almost imperceptible but tangible shift in attitudes towards disabled people has emerged. This is fuelled by the ‘shirker vs. striver’ rhetoric favoured by all mainstream political parties.  I have witnessed genuine cases where people are made to feel unloved and unwanted by those around them; they are made acutely aware of being a so-called burden on their loved ones. Once AS becomes acceptable it will then become expected, the ‘decent thing to do’ to alleviate stress to others.

Ultimately everyone must make up their own mind whether they can support AS. But for me, if even one  person loses their life through error or coercion then that’s too high a price to pay to allow a handful of people to end it all if and when society lets them down. Dignity in dying, surely dignity in living is more important? After all, if ill and disabled people have the latter, few will ever need the former.

You can also read Scope’s view on the Assisted Dying Bill, and we would welcome your thoughts too.