How can we help blind people see
art? Is there a way for people with impaired hearing to hear
the power of artistic expression? How can we enable a person with a mental disability get the most out of art? In short, how can we improve access to museums and exhibitions for everyone
? These and many more issues were the subject of a very intense Conference Day on 26 October in Barcelona. The venue: Gaudi’s building, La Pedrera. The speakers and audience: museum professionals and representatives of various disabled people’s associations.
A lot of us were looking forward to hearing the speaker from the MoMA, and no one was disappointed. Francesca Rosenberg, Director of Community and Access Programs in the MoMA’s
Department of Education, gave a complete exposition of the many initiatives they are involved in, such as
- school accessibility programmes (‘Art Looking, Art Making’)
- ‘Interpreting MoMA’ for the deaf: transcripts of the audio guides
- ‘Touch Tours’: tactile visits, material in Braille and audio guides with descriptions for the blind
- a very interesting ‘Teleconference Courses’ project for people who are confined to the house, in which an educator conducts an interactive art course over the phone
- awareness programmes for medical students
- MoMA Alzheimer’s Project:
visits for Alzheimer’s sufferers and their carers
-specific training for museum educators
In the words of Francesca Rosenberg, ‘People with disabilities are part of your general public’
— a truth as basic as it is frequently overlooked.
Among the keys to success she singled out are: good planning, researching disabilities, having an advisory committee of people with and without disabilities, wide-reaching publicity, taking an in-depth look at the physical space and the acoustics, opening times, being flexible and adapting what’s on offer, and monitor.
The Musée du Louvre, too, has for many years been developing inclusive initiatives in four main areas: the building, the museography, the website and communication. The museum has a regularly monitored Accessibility
Plan, and in addition to facilitating physical access to its spaces, notoriously complex due to the monumental size and structure of the building, and providing tactile devices, sign-language guided tours and dramatized visits with mime (International Visual Theatre) it also organizes Rencontres, get-togethers with professionals from the medico-social sector. Matthieu Decraene, Chargé de développement des publics pour l’accessibilité, summarized the four key points:
- a policy of accessibility can only be put into practice with the participation of people with disabilities and their representatives
- an accessibility policy can improve access for all visitors and puts users’ needs squarely at the centre of the museum’s concerns
- it is built up slowly over time — a long process that calls for perseverance
- accessibility is a transverse project that has to involve the entire institution.
I’m writing a long post — even though I’ve left out lots of interesting things! — but I really must mention one initiative in Barcelona museums:the project ‘Museum, Common Space of Integration’, at Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
(MNAC), addressed to visitors with cognitive disabilities. The Head of the Education Department, Teresa González, ended her talk by throwing out some open questions: how do we go from designing programmes for disabled people to designing programmes with them?
How can we carry over into our accessibility policies all that we have learned from working with disabled people? How can we make accessibility the heart of the museum's policy and ensure it is seen as a responsibility by everyone on the staff?
The most memorable part of the day was the round-table with representatives of different disabilities. There was agreement that a lot has been achieved in recent years and that tactile resources, adapted audio-guides and so on are now far more common. Meritxell Aymerich, a journalist who has been blind from birth, said very graphically that ‘when I went to a museum in the old days it was as if the display cases were empty or the canvases blank’
. Dolors Òdena, from a psychiatric group, said that for her the MNAC workshops mark a before and an after: ‘you wonder what will come out: you feel emotions, you get to know the materials, you grow in culture and you get rid of the stigma and the fear of doing normal things.’
Among the demands: for museums’ access services to be better publicized in tourist offices, on the internet, etc…; for Braille to be present in museums; for a wider use not only of sign language but of other supports for deaf people who communicate orally; for all videos to be subtitled; for good colour contrast in websites; for integrated action in the physical space, activities and workshops; for education departments to prepare appropriate materials; for agreements to be drawn up between museums and associations of disabled people, and for training of museum staff.
As it says in the Commitment made by the seven Articket
museums, among them, our Museu Picasso
, organizers of the conference, ‘to enable people with disabilities to enjoy the contents of the museum is a challenge and an obligation’ and we will work in this direction. In improving access for people with disabilities we will be improving access for everyone.
You can read some more details of the Accessibility Conference on our Museum’s blog
What actions to promote accessibility do you think are most urgently needed?