From Participant to Partner

How organisations are rethinking their assumptions about disability

Last month’s Disability History Conference at London Metropolitan Archives brought together people from sectors as diverse as heritage, education, and medicine under one roof. The conference was co-presented by disabled young people from Treloar’s School and PurpleSTARS, and featured speakers from the Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability, Action for Stammering Children, and RIX Research and Media.

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PurpleSTARS present their historical research wiki.

We were treated to some exciting examples of initiatives in the cultural sector aimed at better serving and engaging disabled audiences – as visitors, volunteers, and staff – and the value these activities can bring to an organisation.

Some key messages from the day were:

  • Not just beneficiaries: Disabled people are not just audiences and participants, but valuable contributors to your organisation. Volunteers and staff contribute enthusiasm, skills, new perspectives, and sometimes even alternative funding opportunities.
  • The sky is the limit: with the right support, disability doesn’t have to limit the ways a person can contribute to your organisation. London Metropolitan Archives made some small but important adjustments to improve access for volunteers with autism, such as scheduling shifts on less busy days and times and providing a quiet space for breaks. Langdon Down Museum suggested that learning disabled people can excel in a wide range of roles, from events to cataloguing and digitisation, to artists-in-residence and beyond.

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  • Don’t go it alone: Many institutions are wary of working with disabled people for fear of doing the ‘wrong’ thing but getting support from an external specialist organisation can help. For example, the London Metropolitan Archives is working with the Youth Panel from Action for Stammering Children to produce an interactive microsite about the history of stammering.
  • The ends reflect the means: Providing a truly inclusive offer for your audiences starts at the very beginning: co-creating it with people with a range of backgrounds and abilities. For example, the PurpleSTARS team recently worked with Tate Modern to create a pop-up sensory museum experience.

Written by Ashleigh Hibbins, Learning and Participation Consultant
Featured in December's edition of The Learning Diaries. To receive The Learning Diaries, visit the sign up page.