November 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in 1995. A lot has been achieved in those 25 years, but there is still much work to be done both in society and in our museums, none of which, for example, currently have a Changing Places facility.
So we’re delighted to be able to make a commitment today to installing our first Changing Places toilet next year at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, with installation of a facility at the Science Museum in London the following year.
This month we have also launched a new Science Museum Group Access Framework to guide our work on accessibility and ensure that it continues with energy and urgency.
The DDA was a victory for many thousands of disabled people, campaigners and activists who had been striving for equality in law. The Act made it unlawful to discriminate against disabled people in the areas of employment, the provision of goods and services, education and transport.
This was the very first time that disabled people in the UK had these protections. It was replaced by the Equality Act in 2010, which built on the progress heralded by the DDA.
We know that the access framework will require regular review as we continue to reflect and learn, and our intention is to work in partnership with disabled people to provide excellent experiences for disabled visitors and colleagues.
Across SMG, many steps have already been taken to ensure that disabled people are welcomed, catered for and represented.
These go beyond the minimum standards of making our buildings and facilities physically accessible with, for example, lifts, ramps and accessible toilets, and include:
- Working with disabled people to tell their stories, such as in Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries
- Seeking to be more representative in our portrayals of the people who do science in live events, online and in interpretation, as in the Hello Universe exhibition at the National Science and Media Museum
- Delivering a range of activities for disabled visitors, including Early Birds and Night Owls, SENsory Astronights, British Sign Language tours, VIscovery and SIGNtific events which take place at the Science Museum.
Access has also been a key consideration in how we have adapted our museums to ensure they are Covid safe. Enhanced microphone and speaker systems have been installed at our busiest till points to help staff and visitors with hearing impairments communicate through screens.
We are proud of what we have done so far and we have won a number of awards for our access provision for visitors in the past.
However, there is much more to do and we must continue to change and develop. So now, at this important moment in the history of civil rights for disabled people in the UK, we are making a number of commitments: a commitment to involving and consulting with disabled people to ensure that we are maintaining high standards and continually improving access; we commit to ensuring that all colleagues are supported and trained to understand the impact of their role in relation to access; a commitment to engaging everyone with STEM.
The authentic representation of disabled people and their lives and experiences in the stories we share is a priority in our collecting, in gallery and exhibition making, in our events and programmes and in our digital offer. One example of this is our ongoing collecting of items and stories from individuals whose lives have been affected by thalidomide.
Finally, we are committed in our masterplan and capital projects to achieving and in some cases exceeding best practice standards. Creating Changing Places at our museums will be a visible demonstration that we are serious about access.