Museum development officer Sam Bowen has launched a website to support the sector’s work with children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (Send).
The website, which features advocacy, guidance and best practice information, also includes blogs from Send activists and parents, as well as museum leaders.
“Five years ago this was a non-subject – very few museums were actively engaging with Send audiences,” said Bowen, who is a Send mum. “A lot has changed over the last two years, and I think lockdown helped to highlight the inequalities in life as well as the powerful wellbeing benefits of a museum visit.
“We now view museum spaces as so much more than just providing academic learning. We also need to start recognising the many valuable and meaningful ways visitors with a wide range of learning and sensory needs can experience museums. The sector has an important role to play in demonstrating inclusivity in their communities.”
Those with Send account for 8% of the UK child population, which is currently underrepresented in museum visits.
“I’d have been interested in this subject even if I hadn’t had a disabled daughter,” Bowen said. “But the lived experience we have had trying to access and meaningfully engage with museums and galleries over the years was a challenge too far. I knew something had to be done to make this better. I knew deep down I could make that change.”
Bowen said that her role as museum development officer for South East Museum Development helped her to make an impact. She was given funding and the autonomy to run a pilot project locally that later grew into a programme that ran across south-east England.
Bowen was recognised for her work in November last year when she won the Radical Change Maker category in the Museums Change Lives Awards from the Museums Association.
The new website forms part of a two-year project funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England. The next phase will see the creation of free-to-use generic resources to help Send families get the most out of museum visits. The project will also make a short advocacy film to show the positive impact museum visits can have on Send children and their families.