Dorset County Museum Autism Access Panel: A Holiday of Work

Hello again everyone!

I regret to inform you all that this will be my last solo post for the Training Museum. As good as this role has been, it only lasts 12 months. But alas, we shall make this a final post to remember! As today I will write about how I have capitalised on my networking skills, that have in turn led me to a little trip to Dorset County Museum……

I was given a rather interesting opportunity that relates well to my work at Ipswich. It came about as a result of my participation in the Transformers Diversify Programme (read this for a reminder of Transformers) at an event called “Museums in Action” at the Lightbox, Woking.

It was here that I met the brilliant Liz Selby, Exhibitions Development Manager at Dorset County Museum who is also on the Transformers programme, albeit a different strand. After a great conversation about what we would like to achieve in our museums, and on mention of my Autism project, we discovered a mutual partnership opportunity.

Liz was interested in having guidance from the local Autism community about how to improve accessibility to Dorset County museum. She wanted to hold an access panel meeting at her museum where she’d invite members of the Autistic community, and involve them in the planning of how to make the museum more autism friendly. In a very fortunate coincidence, I happened to be going on holiday to that area of the country at the same time as the meeting was being held, so I was given an invite!

Fast forwarding to the day itself, I arrived at Dorchester where the museum stands in the middle of the town centre. It was great to be reacquainted with Liz, and I was also introduced to her colleague: Emma Talbot, Education manager. I was also introduced to Jack Welch who is a keen and experienced Autism advocate, and has been called in to help the museum achieve its goals. One of his assignments includes chairing the panel meeting to come.

At the meeting we had five other people who are on the Autistic spectrum in some capacity, in a way that they self-define. They all had brilliant ideas based on their own experiences about how the museum can better accommodate for them. They were also a diverse mix of old and young, male and female, so there were a variety of answers too.

It was indeed a constructive meeting. There were many breakout sessions looking at different aspects of the museums accessibility. We reviewed the access statement on the website, how we could make it more clear and visually better. We also spoke about the spaces in the museum that would make a best quiet space. Overall there was many learning points for Liz and Emma to take on and I am glad that I was able to help.

What was most valuable for me was the learning I took from it. This is potentially an approach that could work well with Ipswich Museum. Community involvement within your own museum is very important and if you can appeal to diverse audiences for their ideas, you can really show how willing your museum is to accommodate for those who may otherwise not come to a museum. When we do further work with Autism Access in the future, than this is something to consider!

Dorset Group Picture

I thought to finish it off here is a group picture of the brilliant people who took part in the panel. An additional big thank you to Liz and Emma for their invite which I most enjoyed and benefited from!

And of course a big thank you to everyone who have been reading my posts over my Traineeship.

Take care, and if I haven’t given enough advertisement: Visit Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service Now!!!

Mark

 

 

 

 

Autism Access Project

Hi everyone

Today I am going to write about something slightly different than what I have blogged about in the past. Today I am going to give you a glimpse of the Autism Access Project, a subject close to my heart.

This blog directly leads from the last one I wrote about Transformers, which is an on-going development programme based on diversity. Transformers has been highly informative for this project. I briefly talked about Early Bird Hour last time, which I will mention as we go on.

The Autism Accessibility Project is an initiative I am leading on in Ipswich Museum. When I was four years old, I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and thus have years of life experience in the area. When the opportunity came to lead on this project, I almost jumped at the chance!  

So what is Autism? It would take too long to explain fully, but basically it is a neurological condition that affects the way an individual communicates, interacts and makes sense of the world. Here are some listed traits: 

  • Difficulties with communication and interaction, which often results in confusion around relationships.
  • Repetitive behaviours that might appear strange, but give comfort and keeps a balance of certainty in their life.
  • Sensory sensitivity. Over or under sensitive to touch, sound, taste.
  • Being a “spectrum” condition means that autistic traits affect people in different ways. Some traits may not even apply to some autistic people.
  • People with Autism are by no means stupid. They generally have focus, which makes them very clever and thus good employees.   

The world can be a challenging and confusing place for autistic people, and thus they may behave in a way that others would struggle to understand. Therefore, training is key in this project, in order to raise awareness of what concerns there might be for autistic visitors, but also to highlight the positives and challenges.

I was ready and able to personally deliver the training. It went down a great success with my colleagues and I am incredibly proud to have given them an insight about what it means to be autistic and how best to support visitors with special needs. I liked it so much that I doing it again in a couple of weeks (eek!).

Alongside helpful access information on the website, we at Ipswich Museums are piloting the Early Bird Hour before normal opening times. 9 – 10am on the first Friday of every month (August being the next one) we are trialling an early opening just for people with special needs.

Early Bird hour 1

My intention for introducing this was to give a quieter and stress free space to explore the museum. In public places, you are often faced with bustling crowds and loud noises. This is often overwhelming for autistic people with sensory issues. It was something that I intensely struggled with as a child, and I thought that introducing the Early Bird Hour would help us be more inclusive for people with special needs.

Hopefully that has given you a good insight into the work we are doing at Ipswich. If you would like to know more about Autism, I would suggest visiting the National Autistic Society website.

If you are interested in the Early Bird Hour and Autism access at Ipswich Museum, please look at the Making a Visit page on our website and scroll down to Early Bird Hour. 

Thanks for tuning in!

Mark