Reviewing and Planning
Before you start this work, take some time to review where your museum is currently at in terms of SEND inclusion. This is a conversation to be had with all staff. There are two main reasons for this, firstly you may well have staff/volunteers with lived experience or a connection to SEND. If they are happy to share this experience, then that will be a valuable insight within your own setting and a good base to start from.
It’s also true that commitment to inclusive practice (not just SEND) has to run throughout the whole organisation – like a stick of rock – for it to become embedded, genuine and authentic. Research proves that the welcome a SEND family receives can make or break a visit, so involving front of house staff including shop, café and cleaning staff, is essential in planning the development of this work. Those running the organisation are likely to be responsible for advocacy and funding, so they need to be on board from the start too.
Starting with a SWOT review to look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats a museum or gallery faces is a good start. Involve as many people in your staff team, including volunteers as you can. Personal experience is essential when reflecting on what areas a venue does well already and where it can do better. To help you get started here’s a template SWOT your SEND inclusion (Word)
If you don’t have a link to additional needs within your staff then working in partnership with a local SEND school, social group or family is a great start. Consider asking local SEND teachers if they would work with you as part of their CPD (continued professional development). Often SEND schools don’t fully appreciate what a museum can offer their students or know about outreach opportunities you may have.
Partnership working is a great idea anyway and brings real life expertise into the planning stages of museum/gallery development. Consider creating an access advisory board or panel. Actively recruit inclusively both into your staff team and onto your governance boards. Only by having people involved in making decisions who are themselves familiar with the needs of disabled people will their needs be fully understood and acted upon.
Many of the larger cultural funding organisations such as National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England have now embedded physical and intellectual access inclusion in their funding criteria and SEND is a recognised audience currently underrepresented in museum engagement.
Look for partners in your area who also work with disabled groups and SEND, can they bring not only expertise but possibly help fund your improvements? Can you offer something unique to them, perhaps your venue or specialist talks in exchange for their help and support? Are there local business links looking to support better access and inclusion in the area through sponsorship or as part of their corporate and social responsibility aims?
Approach local charities too, Lions and Rotary clubs etc who seek to reinvest in local public benefit.
For accredited museums or those working towards accreditation, your local Museum Development Programme will offer training, support and often small grants to develop inclusion work.
Remember many small changes that make a big impact on accessibility in your venue can be done on small budgets, switching off lights and audio during ‘relaxed’ sessions actually saves money!
Some suggestions for improving SEND access will require funding – installing a changing place toilet for example, however many quick wins that will start to make a big difference are low cost or even free to do. Creating a ‘visual story’ for your website will not take long and requires no special equipment or skills, literally any sized museum can make one and all should have one, so add this to your list of things to do as a starter!
When building a case for future funding, it’s also a great idea to start with the basics, build the audience, prove the need (evidence) and develop visitor feedback which will help your case for a funding application for the bigger stuff.
So to start with, read through these initial pages and learn what the basics are to get your museum off to a good start in welcoming SEND. Next, ask staff to do a SWOT review of your museum looking at the needs of SEND families. Everything from the website to the café and all in between. If you have a large museum you could group staff to review different parts of it. We’ve added a handy template here for you to print off and use.
Once you have reviewed the SEND welcome in your museum and have identified the gaps, pick the top three things that you can do quickly and cheaply. (We’ve already added visual story to your list, if you don’t already have one!) Then review the list, pick another three things and work on those. At each stage try to work with local SEND families or an SEN teacher to test the new ideas before launching them. We give lots of examples in the website of best practice elsewhere, but your own offer will be unique to you so if you can ask for feedback locally that will also help develop important partnerships for the future.