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Welcoming SEND families to your museum

Welcoming SEND families to your museum

In September and October 2022, Kids in Museums worked with SEND in Museums Consultant Sam Bowen to deliver two sessions for museums in Scotland on Welcoming SEND families to your museum. Kids in Museums works to make museums welcoming, accessible and fun places for all children, young people, and families. This training was funded and supported by Museums Galleries Scotland who are committed to increasing access for and the inclusion of all families as visitors.

SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) is a term used throughout England, more commonly known in Scotland as ASN (Additional Support Needs). They cover the same broad spectrum of children aged from 0-25 years who have additional needs due to learning, physical or sensory disabilities. According to the Department of Work and Pensions Family Resources Survey 2018/19, approximately 8% of the child population in the UK has SEND and 10% of households include a disabled child. If you consider the whole family group adding any non-disabled siblings, then the number of children affected by access needs in a museum visit rises to nearer 20%.

This is therefore not a small number of children and young people and yet, so few public places are truly inclusive or even welcoming of youth disability or SEND. In 2019 Ecclesiastical published their report based on a survey of SEND families who had visited heritage sites including museums. The results were shocking with ‘42% of parents with special needs children report[ing] that staff or visitors were unfriendly or made them feel uncomfortable’.

However, this is a statistic that didn’t surprise Sam Bowen. An experienced museum professional who has worked as a Curator, Learning Manager and Museum Development Officer, Sam brings wide range of knowledge from the sector to her training. It is her lived experience as a SEND mum, however, that has shaped her current work, training museums, speaking at conferences, and advocating for the cultural engagement needs of SEND children and young people.

Having started this work back in 2017, Sam has since seen important growth in this area, but says there’s still more to be done: “It’s great that ‘SEND’ is now a term most museums have heard of, but there is still a long way to go before our sector truly embraces and welcomes this group. I believe museums and galleries have a role to play in their communities, modelling inclusive behavior and welcoming all, being a safe place for people to come together and learn from each other.”

It is these views that saw Sam being named the Museums Association’s Radical Changemaker in 2021 as part of its Museums Change Lives Awards.

The cohort of museums in this latest Museums Galleries Scotland online training had an introduction to what SEND is, what the impact of a good inclusive visit is and how to start developing one. Delegates worked in small breakout groups to start planning a specific resource – sensory backpacks –which are a great tool for SEND family and school visits.

The group were set ‘homework’ to research this topic further and to start to plan what they could put into action. Four weeks later, the group met up again and gave feedback on their progress and future plans. The results were impressive as Sam explains: “I was literally blown away with the incredible progress everyone had made in such a short time. Some had created new community partnerships and already planned visits to their museums. Others had consulted with their staff (which is essential) and gained their insights, and others had reviewed past work and planned to build on it, refining and testing along the way.”

A powerful result of online training is the quick supportive feedback and ideas sharing between course delegates. By the end of the second session, it was clear that collaboration and peer support networking would be key going forward. The museums all agreed that they would keep in contact with each other and share their development ideas going forward. This was an unplanned but meaningful outcome of the training.

Sam Bowen has received funding from Arts Council England to create SEND guidance for the sector and developed the SEND in Museums website. She tweets under @makedoandSEND and @SENDinMuseums.

Follow Kids in Museums @kidsinmuseums and visit the Kids in Museums website. You can find more support in the Resources section of the website under the Accessibility category, including a guide on Welcoming SEND Families.

MGS continues to work with Kids in Museums, Vocaleyes and other relevant partners to dismantle barriers to access and inclusion for people with disabilities and complex support needs in Scottish museums

For more information about access, inclusion and MGS Knowledge Exchange please contact lorettam@museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk

Published 15 November 2022