Approximately 10% of families in the UK include members with special educational needs and disabilities. Sites need to make sure they are welcoming and accessible for this audience, that staff have received training in both recognising and engaging with this important audience, and that there are SEND-friendly activities available as part of a visit.
- Include a section on your website for SEND families so visitors know what to expect when they visit. Include access info and activities.
- If there are resources which can be used by SEND families as part of their visit, such as multisensory resources or backpacks, highlight them on your website.
- Promote handling collections and touch and multisensory exhibits.
- Craft activities should be open-ended, allowing for any level of participation.
- SEND families taking part in the activity is the important part, NOT what the end result looks like. For example, instead of saying, “We are making clay animals we saw in the painting”, suggest saying, “We are playing with clay, and you can make something you saw today if you like”. This removes “judgement” and “failure” from the equation.
- Train museum staff in how to recognise and engage with different SEND audiences, including families. Friendly, helpful, and confident staff make a SEND family’s day, and they are more likely to visit you again!
- Be flexible! SEND families may need flexibility on accessing activities and may need to leave halfway through.
- Make sure you are ready for a visit at any time. With SEND families, you probably won’t know when they are going to arrive!
- Families may not be fully aware of your SEND offer, resources, or accessible facilities until they arrive, making their initial five minutes of orientation especially important. They may arrive with many types of need, either because they have non-SEND siblings and friends in their group or because they are visiting with other families with different needs. (It’s not unusual for multiple SEND families to visit together.) Although some may bring carers with them, the adult-to-child ratio is likely to be much less than with school visits.
- Lack of sleep, a stressful journey, even getting out of the car and visiting a new and therefore “strange” place comes as part of the challenging territory for SEND families. Patience, understanding, and empathy go a long way towards making them feel welcome and supported when they arrive. Their day has usually started a lot earlier than yours!
Watch this short film of Marie Kennedy from The Cambridge University Museums, talking about their SEND family engagement.