Nothing About Us, Without Us

Our newest Junior Consultant, Kerry, talks toolkits and tips for best engagement practice with Deaf and disabled audiences.

Introducing Kerry

Hello Learning Diaries readers! A bit of an introduction to me to start with... I recently joined The Audience Agency as Junior Consultant having previously worked on several Heritage Lottery Fund (now the National Lottery Heritage Fund) projects and I have just completed my PhD exploring the relationship between archaeology and memory.

Much of my previous experience is in engaging communities with heritage and I have a particular interest in working with marginalised groups who typically wouldn’t engage in heritage. The current underrepresentation of groups such as the historic working class and Deaf and disabled people of course contributes significantly to their lack of engagement.

History of Place Toolkits

I worked with Accentuate – a national programme promoting the talents of Deaf and disabled people in the cultural sector - on the production of two toolkits following their History of Place project. Both the project and the toolkits were developed in partnership with Deaf and disabled people in order to explore their heritage and tell their stories:

Toolkit 1: Co-designing accessible exhibitions with disabled people

The first toolkit provides a guide to co-designing accessible exhibitions with disabled people. During the History of Place project, three exhibitions (at the Museum of Liverpool, M-Shed and V&A) were co-created and co-curated by disabled people. I specifically worked on The Blind School: Pioneering People and Places exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool. The participants conducted research, selected objects for display, created audio visual media and shared their stories via oral histories.

Toolkit 2: Engaging young Deaf and disabled people with heritage

The second toolkit shares guidance on engaging young Deaf and disabled people with heritage. The History of Place project worked with children and young people to creatively respond to archive material and museum collections by creating films, digital games, accessible exhibitions and sensory stories.

Download the toolkits here


Leading by example:

1. Co-creation is key | How do people with a lived experience of disability lead on the narrative of an exhibition?

Consider that the history of people with disabilities, and the objects and archive materials that represent that history, is typically dominated by the voices of decision makers and gatekeepers, rather than disabled people themselves. This can be addressed by creating new content such as oral histories, reflective films, and alternative object labels, as well as encouraging museums to acquire new objects into their collections that represent disabled people and their lived experiences. For the exhibition The Blind School: Pioneering People and Places at the Museum of Liverpool, we worked with young blind and visually impaired people to create this film that captured their responses to the archive material uncovered. We also worked with former students of the Royal School for the Blind, Liverpool to interpret some of the objects within the Museum of Liverpool’s collections. They explained how revolutionary the introduction of the long cane was to their independence and mobility – insight that would have gone unrecorded had those with expert knowledge and lived experience not been involved in the curatorial process.

2. Nothing About Us, Without Us | How do you actively include disabled people and forefront accessibility considerations in all activities, projects and places?

This may sound obvious but it’s surprising how often Deaf and disabled people are excluded from leading activities in the cultural sector. On the History of Place project, we had Deaf and disabled people lead gallery tours, write exhibition and website content, had a Deaf person (rather than an interpreter) do the British Sign Language (BSL) and disabled artists leading workshops. We commissioned a disabled creative writer to produce these audio description tours of the exhibition and had disabled actors perform the script. We worked with a Deaf person to perform the BSL on these oral histories and design specific signs to communicate the historical meanings such as Scottish-style country dancing (see 2.18!).

3. Accessible exhibitions for all | How do you ensure everyone benefits from improved access?

We Worked with disabled people to design The Blind School: Pioneering People and Places exhibition, develop exhibition best practice, test the accessible learning methods (such as the audio description and BSL) and lead on associated events and activities. We developed a network of disabled people to advise on the design and content of the exhibitions, which included capturing their responses to, and memories of, objects and creating labels that reflected their lived experiences. For example, as non-Braille readers we worked with Braille readers to user test the Braille signage and guidance to check for errors (there were a few errors!).

Take a look at History of Place toolkits

Written by Kerry Massheder-Rigby, Junior Consultant

Featured in the February edition of The Learning Diaries. Aimed at those working in learning, engagement or participation in the cultural sector, this newsletter will share updates from our team on sector events, ideas from some of our projects and links to new research. To receive The Learning Diaries, visit the sign up page.