With Alison Bowyer, Executive Director, Kids in Museums
Accessibility is crucial when you’re looking for a good day out with someone who has a disability.
If you’ve found such a place, and it’s a museum or similar attraction, here’s your chance to give it a massive thumbs up. Alison Bowyer, Executive Director, Kids in Museums is here to tell us more.
Vote for your favourite accessible museum! By Alison Bowyer, Executive Director, Kids in Museums
Have you had a great family day out at a museum, gallery, historic house, science centre or heritage site? Say thank you by nominating them for Best Accessible Museum in the Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museum Award.
Kids in Museums is a small charity that works to make heritage attractions across the UK great places for all children, young people and families. Since 2004, our annual Family Friendly Museum Award has celebrated the museums that are most welcoming, accessible and fun for all ages – and it’s up to families to decide the winner!
Why were the awards created?
Accessibility has always been central to our work. We know that SEND families often face barriers to visiting museums, from physical access to staff welcome. We provide practical advice for museums through online training and resources, and through our Family Friendly Museum Award.
However in 2020, we became concerned about the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the visitor experience for SEND families and wanted to ensure their needs were not left behind. In August 2020, in partnership with Autism in Museums and SEND parent Sam Bowen, we ran a survey to ask SEND families what would give them the confidence to visit museums and heritage sites again.
From this survey, combined with our work with families over many years, we created a new category of our Family Friendly Museum Award: Best Accessible Museum. We wanted to celebrate best practice in the sector, ensure accessibility remains a top priority for museums and empower SEND families to decide the winner.
What are we looking for?
We are looking for museums that have:
- friendly and welcoming staff who make you feel comfortable during a visit
- comprehensive information on their website so you can confidently plan your visit
- accessible facilities, such as wheelchair access, accessible parking and accessible or Changing Places toilets
- flexible ticketing that accommodates different family group sizes and groups that have to change their plans and visit another time
- easy to read signs and information, that are available in different formats, such as large print, BSL, Makaton or audio description
- flexible and inclusive activities for all families, which could include hands-on activities, self-led trails, quiet/relaxed mornings or sensory backpacks to borrow
- sensory items for sale in the gift shop
- a café that caters for different dietary requirements and has a menu available online, or a picnic space where you can have your own food
- ways you can give feedback to help improve their offer
- SEND families and their stories represented in the displays.
We also ask museums about how they have worked with families with additional needs. This could be through partnerships with local community organisations or by having an Access Panel who they can consult on new displays or developments.
How will winners be selected?
Nominations are open to families and museums on our website from 21 March to 5 June 2023. In June, an expert panel whittles down the nominations to a shortlist. Undercover family judges visit each shortlisted museum during the summer holidays. Their experiences will decide the Best Accessible Museum winner.
Our Undercover Family Judges and expert panel will include those with expertise in and lived experience of what makes an excellent museum for families with additional needs. We share the family judges’ feedback with each shortlisted museum to help them improve their offer further.
What makes an award winning museum?
Last year, three excellent museums were shortlisted for Best Accessible Museum in the Family Friendly Museum Award 2022: Colchester Castle, Experience Barnsley and the National Maritime Museum in London. Families rated local history museum Experience Barnsley the best in the UK for SEND families.
Family judges felt supported by friendly staff and enjoyed lots of hand-on activities in the galleries, involving different motor skills and sensory elements. They loved the sensory bags, Makaton signage, inclusive range of books, ample seating (including collapsible chairs you could borrow) and quiet area.
One family judge said: “The museum, displays, interactive activities, and the children's area far outweigh many other settings. The sensory bag and disabled toilets are exceptional. Staff are lovely, and they go beyond to help.”
Another said: “With nearly every display, there was written information, which was great for me, but also interactive activities, such as a train that lights and moves when pressing a button, or a model coal mine tunnel to climb into, for my child. There is also a fantastic children's area, with vehicles to sit in, a play shop with fruit and veg, a dress-up area, and a reading space. We both had a great time exploring.”
Experience Barnsley succeeded the Postal Museum in London, who won the inaugural Best Accessible Museum category in 2021. Who will be next? It’s up to you!
How can you nominate?
Do you know a great museum or heritage site that deserves to be recognised? You can make a nomination now on the Kids in Museums website by filling in our short online form. If you need the form in another format, please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org You can nominate a museum of any size anywhere in the UK. If you can’t decide, you can nominate more than one museum!
If you would be interested in becoming an Undercover Family Judge over the summer holidays, you can sign up to our Family Mailing List to hear when sign ups open in June/ July. We aim to recruit a range of families of all shapes and sizes from across the UK. Kids in Museums will cover your family’s ticket costs and make a contribution towards your travel expenses.
We are always open to any other feedback or comments you have about how you find the visitor experience at heritage sites. You can contact us by email: email@example.com
Thank you for reading and we look forward to receiving your nomination soon!
About Alison Bowyer
Alison Bowyer is Executive Director of Kids in Museums. She has worked in the cultural sector for 20 years with previous roles at LAMDA, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Southbank Centre and the Academy of Ancient Music. She has a longstanding interest in museums and how people engage with heritage. In her spare time, she is a listening volunteer for Samaritans and has mentored for Arts Emergency and the Institute of Fundraising.
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