On Friday 30 October, the Heritage Lottery Fund brought together an audience of senior heritage and disability leaders at the Inclusive Heritage Conference to stimulate joined-up thinking and to encourage more applications from disability-led groups. To date, HLF has awarded £34m to 800 projects specifically aimed at benefiting people with disabilities and £17.9m has been awarded to 350 projects led by organisations representing the interests of people with disabilities.
It’s now twenty years since the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was introduced and the Inclusive Heritage Conference was created as a platform to discuss the under-representation of disabled people in shaping, visiting and working within the heritage sector. The event also highlighted the achievements and challenges twenty years on from the Disability Discrimination Act and examined plans for the future.
Sir Peter Luff, Chair of HLF, gave the welcome speech, saying: “We must raise the bar when it comes to making our heritage more inclusive. Today’s conference is not an exercise in box-ticking; it actually signals one of our most important aspirations: ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to be involved in the nation’s heritage. There is no room for complacency and we know we have to do better. We must reach out across boundaries and never forget that money raised through the National Lottery, which HLF spends, belongs to everyone and should benefit everyone.”
Despite the progress made over the past twenty years, ways of working and attitudes still need to change, as noted by Dr Tom Shakespeare, a Senior Lecturer at the University of East Anglia, who delivered a passionate and informative keynote called ‘State of the Disability Nation’. His speech reinforced the massive contribution that disabled people have made to arts and culture throughout history. “Disabled people have such a lot to share with others, with non-disabled people. Encounters with disabled people and hearing their stories will drive heritage” he explained. “In a rapidly changing world, disabled people are the experts in readjustment, in adapting to the curve balls that life pitches at us.”
The next speech was by Esther Fox, Head of Accentuate Programme. Esther has worked in the cultural sector for the past fifteen years and is a keen advocate for the promotion of ambitious, disabled led cultural activities. “It’s twenty years on from the DDA, but we still need to think big,” she said. Esther also explained about the new Accentuate Programme and how it will build on the success of the Creative Landscapes project and develop some new areas of work around the distinctive heritage and stories of Deaf and disabled people.
A series of workshops took place in the afternoon including ‘Inclusive communication: sharing best practice, learning styles and evaluation methods’. Speakers during this session included Katie Gonzalez-Bell, the Access and Inclusion Adviser at the Science Museum. Katie presented the new Audio-Eyes App, developed with and for blind and partially sighted visitors, which allows for a fully audio experience. The App has been well received by visitors and is an excellent example of how digital can transform the museum and gallery experience.
Lynsey Robinson then presented on how the Sensory Trust are working to make the outdoor environment to become more inclusive by providing farm visits for people living with dementia and the creation of other sensory rich experiences. During conference, a new film was shown to delegates that included locations such as the RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk and the Foundling Museum in London’s Bloomsbury. Both places have shown that true access is achieved not just by making physical adjustments but also by making every visitor, whatever their requirements, feel welcomed and able to fully participate.
Useful links and resources from Inclusive Heritage Conference
Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)
Dr Tom Shakespeare Disabled Lives Blog
Esther Fox Accentuate Programme
Audio-Eyes App Science Museum – Audio Eyes
Sensory Trust Sensory Trust Website
Mencap Cymru Hidden now Heard
Heart N Soul Heart N Soul Website