My name is Sam Bowen and I’m the developer of the SEND in Museums website and an inclusion campaigner in museums. I’ve worked in the sector for over two decades as a museum curator, education manager and museum development officer. I am also a SEND mum, as my daughter has special educational needs and disability.
Before becoming a parent, my understanding of access in museums was limited to ramps, large text and feely bags! I say this firstly because, back then, there simply wasn’t any guidance around inclusion and also because I will never suggest anything that I don’t now know to be possible and achievable in developing SEND inclusion within your museum. I also want to stress that you don’t need to become an expert on this subject. The children, young people, their families and teachers are the experts, and I hope you will work with them to develop your program. You are the experts of your museums, their collections and the wonderful stories they tell. The purpose of this website is to give you an overview of access needs and suggestions for embedding SEND inclusion in your work.
My own work has been shaped by taking my daughter to museums and galleries and experiencing firsthand what inaccessibility feels like—pretty rubbish! Not being able to physically access an activity, display or service is frustrating and upsetting. Witnessing other non-disabled children experience museums with the same glee you wish for your child, and know to be possible, is heartbreaking. It’s why so many SEND families do not see museums as being for them, but if you build it, they will come. All children deserve the same access to cultural enrichment.
My approach is pragmatic and optimistic. We can change museums, and we should! In 2021 I was awarded the Radical Changemaker Award in the Museums Change Lives campaign from the Museums Association for this work, and I will continue to help museums become SEND welcoming until we change the sector completely.
- I’m the author of the Special schools and museums toolkit
- I have run lots of SEND inclusion partnership projects with museums and special needs groups and you can read their case studies for more inspiration.
- I also wrote the Welcoming Special Needs Families guide for Kids in Museums
- You can read my blog post on The no ‘end result’ rule too
I do hope that this website provides a greater understanding of the needs of this audience and the huge, positive impact your museum’s inclusion of them can have. The role of the museum has been rapidly changing as we recognise the well-being and social benefits of visits. Museums can and should play an active part in local community inclusion and place shaping.
If you would like to be included in the content as a case study, blog post or listing, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tweet us: @SENDinMuseums
or me @MakedoandSEND