Disabled Access Day is a new initiative for 2015, a day for disabled people to visit one new place that they have never been to before. Sounds simple really, but often it can be incredibly difficult, so difficult in fact that you don’t get to that new place, the barriers become insurmountable. But what are these barriers? Well they are not always physical for a start. Being accessible is not just about wheelchair access. Disabilities can be intellectual too.
My daughter has autism – if you looked at her you wouldn’t know she has autism, it is a hidden disability. We find it very hard to visit new places, my daughter can’t cope with crowds and queues, she struggles with noisy environments, where the lights are too bright, and the unpredictable nature of life can assault her senses. For us, being accessible is not about ramps and lifts, it is about a visual guide on the website showing us what a museum looks like, where are the noisy galleries? Where are the quiet ones? What does the cafe look like? Where are the toilets?
For us, being accessible is about understanding staff who realise your child is not having a temper tantrum but a meltdown because of sensory overload. It is about having a quiet room, we may not even use it but just to know it is there, knowing there is a place to go to calm down can make a massive difference.
Since I became the Blogger in Residence at the RAF Museum the thing I have been desperate to do is bring my family. Show my kids the ‘First World War in the Air’ exhibition where I regularly disappear off to and gauge their impressions. I couldn’t wait to see what they enjoy and find out what grabs their attention. Disabled Access Day is a great day for us to visit because Ellen Lee, the Education Officer, will be running some extra handling and dress up sessions. I know there will be a friendly face to meet us.
I think it is going to be okay, because I know the RAF Museum has an Autism Access Award, I know the staff are trained, I have met a lot of people who work at the museum and they are lovely and supportive. I know there is a visual guide, a quiet room, clear signage and lots of fun to be had. The trouble is when you visit somewhere for the first time, you don’t always know about that stuff. You don’t know it is going to be okay. That is what Disabled Access Day is all about, it is about museums, galleries and lots of other places shouting about what they can do for disabled visitors. It is about giving disabled visitors the confidence to come and visit. It is about disabled visitors giving it a go too, trying out that new experience and more importantly sharing what works and what doesn’t. It is very easy to demand better access but without helping and guiding museums and galleries to the right solutions it isn’t really going to work.
My only quibble with Disabled Access Day is it is just one day, sadly we don’t get to cope with a disability for one day, it is something we have to cope with every day. But you have to start somewhere, so why not start with one day, one special day where everyone gives it a go. We had a fantastic trip to the RAF Museum, but I know their support goes far beyond one special day. So if you want to visit you don’t have to wait until next year, you can go tomorrow and still have a fantastic day, in a supportive and understanding environment.
You can find out more about Disabled Access Day on their website – http://www.disabledaccessday.com