Tips on finding an accessible activity this half term
My name is Sam Bowen and I’m mum to Lucy who is 9. Lucy is a very sociable little girl who loves shopping, music (especially drumming) and any water-based activity. She is funny, wilful and free spirited just like most 9 year old girls are, she also happens to be severely disabled due to her unique genes. A Dr recently called her a Unicorn, which I suppose she is!
As a family we love going out places together and as her dad and I are both museum professionals, we tend to visit them quite a lot. Sadly though we’ve not always had the easiest of experiences when we do.
Having one too many poor disappointments instead of the magic and wonder other families with non-disabled children seemed to, was the trigger for me using my job to try and improve access and inclusion for disabled children and their families in museums. I have now worked with museums and SEND partners around the whole of the South East to create better experiences. I also wrote a guide for museums on how to work with special schools and I give talks at different museum conferences about the importance of embracing SEND families. I’m happy to say it is making a difference finally but there is still much more to be done.
My job allowed me to make this impact as I work in museum development, but you too as a paying visitor to attractions can also influence them! Here’s my top tips on how to have an inclusive visit and gently educate places as you go!
- Print off the copy of your child’s DLA or benefits award and put it in their bag. You’d be surprised how often we are asked to prove Lucy’s disability and she’s a wheelchair user (I know right? – go do it now!)
- If your child uses a buggy, consider labelling it in some way as a disabled access buggy. To those not of our world, a Maclaren Major looks just like any other pushchair. Fabric signs are available online.
- If you have someone with special dietary needs, take their food with you. I’ve yet to be told I can’t feed my Unicorn her meal we bring and as too few places sell Jacket Potatoes, I don’t risk the worry!
- Don’t forget your blue badge if you have one!
- As above but for Radar key!
- You can search for nearby Changing Places on their website and app but not all CP loos use Radar key entry so check before you travel.
- Many galleries and museums have ‘quiet’ times or ‘relaxed’ hours for visitors who need this. Often museums are quietest at the start and end of the day. If you feel having a volunteer to help you during your visit would be useful, phone at least two weeks advance to see if you can book one.
- Theatres and Cinemas often have relaxed performances with no adverts, reduced sound and brighter lighting. Pre booking may be needed.
- If a children’s activity is not inclusive, say so! Ask for more accessible options or for the person running the activity to be flexible and adapt. Your child has as much right to access and enjoy activities as any other kid there.
- If you have not been 100% happy with your visit, please give feedback and tell them what could have made your visit better. Twitter, Facebook and Trip Advisor are public ways of doing this, but sometimes a personal email or letter to the manager gets a more personal reply. Its not your job to make places better, but you can help them to learn how to become so!
Through my work, my aim is that all museums in the UK will become SEND aware and through training and good examples learn how to be SEND friendly.
Because it really doesn’t matter what is made from a lump of clay or any art activity in a museum. It’s the taking part that counts, the experience and the ‘process’ to use an arty term. That experience and wonder will only happen when families feel welcome as who they are and supported in what they need during their visit.
Things are changing, but please do ask places for any help you need, ask for activities to be flexible and ask if they have quiet spots for resting in. Do they have a changing places toilet for changing in? And a cafe that accepts your needs. If not then politely ask why?
Happy half-term and hope you find many moments of wonder on your travels!
SamDo you have any top tips for the community? Where is your favourite accessible day out? You can follow Sam on Twitter to find out more about accessible museums and other exciting projects she gets up to!