With increasing demand to consider diversity and sensory inclusivity in heritage interpretation, we have teamed up with Cassie Herschel-Shorland, inclusive museum design consultant, to develop a workshop which would offer practical advice and information on inclusive design and accessible interpretation, as well as give opportunities to discuss the challenges and creative opportunities diverse audiences may bring.
Timely, last year, the British Museum’s Egyptian Sculpture Gallery Touch Tour was awarded the winner of the AHI Discover Heritage Awards in the Interpretation for a target audience category and this workshop provided an opportune moment to showcase one of the best inclusive approaches to interpretation.
We began with setting our individual objectives for the day, with Cassie setting the scene and opening a conversation on inclusive interpretation in practice.
Stuart Frost, Head of Interpretation & Volunteers at British Museum, talked about the long journey of the Touch Tour from its inception to delivery.
The museum is a challenging place in terms of accessibility with the audience mostly from overseas, dwelling time in permanent galleries relatively low and over 60% of audience being first-time visitors. The most popular display is the Egyptian Gallery.
Working closely with museum’s curators nine large objects were chosen for the touch tour. Alongside the tour other resources were developed; a large print book guide, an audio descriptive guide for an enhanced audio tour and a Braille guide with raised tactile drawings. A special training for volunteer tour guides was developed to enhance their skills in leading the touch tours, but also provide support and assistance to visitors. The touch tours are easily identifiable by visitors having badges and lanyards to inform the security that the visitors can touch the exhibits.
We have benefited from the experience of Ferelith Hordon, a volunteer guide who told us that the touch tour is very much about a dialog between the guide and the participants as opposed to telling the history of an object. Often you must be creative, more descriptive and sensitive to your audience requirements.
As the touch tour became popular, it sparked an idea for this approach to be adopted across all galleries. The aim is to have at least one object in each gallery available for a touch tour.
What makes a visitor experience or interpretive journey inclusive and accessible?
Cassie posed a question to the participants and a lively discussion followed. Participants brought their own experiences into the discussion. We have come up with five key ingredients:
Liz Porter, Access and Equality Manager, British Museum talked about inclusive design and multi-sensory experiences at Lewes Castle, Fort Brockhurst and the British Museum.
Liz started her presentation with a ball of string being weaved in and out across the room, to get the participants thinking about ‘how long is a piece of string?’ to provoke a conversation about the tensions that can arise when talking about accessible design and interpretation. She stressed that practical logistics versus aesthetics of the design must be well balanced.
Liz compared the approaches to inclusive interpretation at the three sites. Although the approaches varied, there were common practical steps that needed to be considered:
Integrating inclusive design was a practical session where participants, split into groups, got to explore the galleries and encouraged to think about opportunities for inclusive design solutions.
The afternoon kicked off with John Wilson, Historian, Lecturer and a Tour Guide, talking about integrating British Sign Language (BSL) and encouraging Deaf community to enjoy museums and galleries. In his inspirational presentation, John re-capped on a difference between a Deaf and a deaf community. Whilst the Deaf community has its own history, culture and language (BSL is a native language of the Deaf community); deaf with a lower case ‘d’ means to talk generally about those with a hearing loss during their lifetime.
John gave practical tips on how to create opportunities for greater involvement of d/Deaf audiences:
As only about 2% of Deaf community in the UK are employed in the museum sector there is a need and opportunities to be explored around training provision for Deaf guides nationally.
Cassie Herschel-Shorland rounded up the day with her presentation on guidance and resources available for inclusive and accessible interpretation. She delved in the access and inclusive design definitions and regulations, giving examples of some best practice guidance available.
Overall, the day was a good mix of theory and practical experiences, with thought provoking presentations and expertise from our speakers. The day sparked off conversations around inclusivity and access within heritage setting and the many opportunities that lie ahead for museums and heritage attractions to open up to new audiences. We hope these conversations to continue in future as well as at the AHI annual conference in Chester, taking place this October.
Kate Lindley, AHI trustee and Events coordinator and Cassie Herschel-Shorland, inclusive museum design consultant.