Voxpop: Why do we need a new approach to displaying disability?

Issue 120/03, 04.03.2020
The Wellcome Collection and Research Centre for Museums and Galleries at the University of Leicester has recently published new guidance outlining how museums can take an ethical approach to interpreting disability and difference in gallery spaces. Why don’t we see more exhibitions and displays about disability?

01052019-comment-Richard-SandellRichard Sandell, co-director, Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, University of Leicester

“Stories of disability are largely absent from museum displays. Where they appear, they often reflect deeply entrenched, negative attitudes towards physical and mental difference. Research reveals that museums don’t simply reflect attitudes; they are active in shaping conversations about difference. Projects created with disabled people show that museums hold enormous potential to shape more progressive, accurate and respectful ways of understanding human diversity. Why wouldn’t we take up this opportunity? ”

25092018-comment-zoeZoe Partington, creative consultant

“It can be relentless, exhausting and inhumane for disabled people to ‘fit in’ to a normative system. We are often bullied, stigmatised and seen as objects of pity. The ethical approach to interpreting disability and difference is a breath of fresh air and a catalyst to dialogue and change. It doesn’t remove the need for cultural organisations to train their staff and reframe their agendas on inclusion, but supports the missing link to the ableist approaches that lead to segregation and disempower the value that disabled people bring to the table.”

13032020 Tony Heaton Headshot 1Tony Heaton, consultant on disability rights, access and inclusion

“The old approach usually fails to recognise the lived experiences of disabled people and instead perpetuates negative, often medicalised stereotypes that can be offensive and oppressive. Even 40 years after introducing the ‘social model of disability’, barriers and discrimination are still prevalent. Museums have a responsibility to call this out, remove barriers and widen inclusion by ensuring the voices of disabled people are heard. Museums should be the antenna of change. Nothing about us without us.”