Museums are learning from people with autism and learning disabilities

Jonathan Knott, 05.11.2015
Input from disabled groups helps institutions to adapt approach
Museum staff described how working with people with autism and learning difficulties helps museums become more accessible and represent a wider range of experiences, delegates at the Museums Association Conference and Exhibition heard.

The RAF museum, which has won an award for being autism-friendly, provides work experience placements for autistic students with complex needs from a local specialist college. The students are involved with essential tasks like preparing gas mask cases for school visits and stapling together worksheets. “It’s really beneficial to have someone who can help us get these resources ready,” said the museum’s education officer, Ellen Lee.

Lee said that observing how students interacted with staff from Ambitious College helped them improve their offer. She encouraged museum staff to try new approaches to working with local disabled groups, saying “if you don’t give it a go, you’ll never know”.

Kay Jones, curator of community history at the Museum of Liverpool, said that her institution worked with Wicked Fish, a theatre group featuring people with learning difficulties, on a recent exhibition.

The project included creating a contemporary archive about the experience of people with learning difficulties, to combat their traditional exclusion from historical narratives. Wicked Fish gave a short performance to delegates. One member described the experience of the project as “mind-blowing”.