Law and ethics

Black boy smiling, sat in wheelchair with picture of strong arms chalked onto blackboard behind him on wall

SEND legislation

The language used within this website conforms to current best practice within the U.K. as of 2021. It is worth noting that terminology in different countries varies as does legislation, and legislation changes over time.

You may see both the terms SEN (Special Educational Needs) and SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) used, depending on the different settings. However, as we discuss physical disability access requirements in addition to SEN, we use the term SEND throughout this website. The term legally covers a person from ages 0–25 years, but many of the adjustments and approaches we suggest will be relevant and useful to older adults with learning disability and other forms of disability, such as dementia. Physical access adaptations similarly will benefit a wider range of visitors.

There are three main pieces of legislation that govern the rights of SEND children and young people and their families; anyone caring for a disabled person is also protected under the Equality Act. We set out a brief overview here and signpost you to more information. It’s important to know that SEND children and young people also have specific, legal rights to access cultural engagement.

Definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 identifies anyone as disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a “substantial” and “long-term” negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities. There are currently 13.9 million people in the U.K. who are disabled, and 8% of the U.K. child population are SEND.

The Equality Act replaced the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), along with the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 Relations Act 1976, in 2010, therefore any discussion of SEND inclusion that uses the term “DDA” is already over a decade out of date and should be reviewed and questioned.

The Act arguably refers to disability in a “medical model” format, in that disability is viewed as caused by a person’s “impairment” rather than by any barriers society has put in place that prevent their access. Note that many disabled people view their disability through the “social model”. Learning about these different models will be useful, particularly when assessing your building’s accessibility not just in terms of space but interpretation and website information.

Social Model vs Medical Model of disability –

Children and Families Act 2014

The Children and Families Act 2014 (CAFA 2014) obtained royal assent and became law on 13 March 2014. This wide-ranging, landmark act was designed to fully reform services for vulnerable children by giving them greater protection, paying special attention to those with additional needs, and also helping parents and the family as a whole. There are nine important parts to the Act, each of which makes substantial changes and new provisions to various areas of child welfare and family law. Part three focuses on children and young people with Special Educational Needs (SEN).

New provisions put in place by the Act for SEN children include:

  • A new Education, Health, and Care (EHC) Plan based on a single assessment process replaces special education statements. EHC plans are documents that support children, young people, and their families from birth to age 25.
  • The commissioning and planning of services for children, young people, and families are now run jointly by health services and local authorities as a result of the Act.
  • The Act extends the rights to a personal budget for the support of children, young people, and families.
  • Local services available to children and families must be made available in a clear, easy-to-read manner.
  • Local authorities must involve families and children in discussions and decisions relating to their care and education, and provide impartial advice, support, and mediation services.

If your museum is run by the Local Authority, you may already be working with SEND families as part of their “Local Offer”. If not, then this is a good opportunity to explore how you can fit within that role. No matter what your governance model, however, all museums and galleries can play an important role in providing either formal or informal provision for SEND children and young people, as well as their families and social groups.

For more information on the Children and Families Act 2014

Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years (PDF)

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Convention has 54 articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life, setting out the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to. It also explains how adults and governments must work together to make sure all children can enjoy all their rights. Every child has rights, whatever their ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities, or any other status.

The Convention must be seen as a whole: All the rights are linked, and no right is more important than another. The right to relax and play (Article 31) and the right to freedom of expression (Article 13) have equal importance as the right to be safe from violence (Article 19) and the right to education (Article 28).

Article 23 (children with a disability) A child with a disability has the right to live a full and decent life with dignity and, as far as possible, independence and to play an active part in the community. Governments must do all they can to support disabled children and their families.

Article 31 (leisure, play, and culture) Every child has the right to relax, play, and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities.

UNCRC summary (PDF)

Cultural Inclusion Manifesto

The above listed pieces of legislation are the baseline standard and reason why all public organisations, such as museums and galleries, must be inclusive and accessible to disabled visitors, including children with SEND. For more specific guidance, we suggest you also explore the Cultural Inclusion Manifesto and sign up to become a supporting member.

“Children and young people with disabilities do not have equal access to cultural and arts opportunities. We want to change this. We want schools, cultural and arts venues, and disability organisations to co-produce better and more opportunities for children and young people with disabilities to engage with arts and culture.

The Cultural Inclusion Manifesto is a statement of intent to work to address this. In the short time since the manifesto was established, it has gained traction through word of mouth and has so far been supported in music hubs, schools, cultural venues, and bridge organisations. We want to hear from organisations who will join with us on this ‘game changing’ journey.”