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Dundee V&A: Sensory Friendly Days to improve accessibility

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DESIGNING the £ 80million V&A Dundee complex was the first project by internationally renowned architect Kengo Kuma on UK soil. Its aim was to “create a new living room for the city”, which included provisions for visitors with physical disabilities. Universal wheelchair access and toilets for changing places are among the facilities designed to maximize accessibility.

However, not all obstacles to participation are visible. It is estimated that one in seven Scots is neurodiverse, which means that information is processed differently by their brain. In practice, this can lead to overwhelming sensory stimulation in busy situations, such as days out in busy tourist traps.

Trying to allay the fears of neurodiverse individuals is a tall order for museums across the country, the majority of which are eager to welcome as many visitors as possible in order to begin to make up for the cataclysmic losses suffered during the lockdown.

Research conducted during the pandemic by an industry coalition including Museums Galleries Scotland, the national development body for the Scottish museum sector, found that 71% of families with children with special educational needs and disabilities consider museums as too crowded to be visited.

“It is important that museums continue to improve accessibility in their organizations by identifying and removing barriers that prevent visitors and staff with disabilities and with complex needs from accessing services or doing their jobs effectively,” said Loretta Mordi, Head of Learning and Engagement at Museums Galleries Scotland. .

This is precisely what V&A Dundee is keen to do. After exceeding all expectations in its first 18 months – a million people had visited it in just over 500 days after it opened – the progress of the Tayside Museum has been severely halted by the Covid epidemic. While the forced shutdown seemed uniformly negative for the institution, a bright spot has since emerged.

A new Sensory Friendly Days initiative offers a safe and relaxed environment in which neurodiverse visitors have free rein to wander through the permanent collections and major exhibitions of the place when the site is closed to the general public.

The National: DUNDEE, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 09: A general view of the V&A Museum by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and building designer on February 9, 2018 in Dundee, Scotland.  The internationally renowned architect visited the site to see

“As much as the pandemic has been a huge challenge for everyone, there have been opportunities that have accelerated accessibility and made the topic more important,” said Peter Nurick, producer of V&A Dundee communities (here). above) for access and inclusion.

In addition to unlimited access throughout the museum, the events provide visitors with sensory resources, including bespoke backpacks filled with tactile items related to the exhibits. These, along with adjustments to sound levels and site-wide lighting, are all part of a site-wide goal to avoid unnecessary stress and maximize fun.

The “imaginative approach” highlighted by V&A Dundee is a “great example of what can be achieved” and represents a “big step in being able to welcome everyone,” according to Paul Ralph, director of access and communication. inclusion at Euan’s Guide, a global disability organization access a registered charity in Scotland.

While Nurick appreciates all the praise heaped on the program, he finds the greatest pleasure in the responses of the participants. “Everyone involved has seen how much our user-friendly sensory programming brings into people’s lives,” he told The National, adding that he hopes the initiative will continue even when the museum returns to it. ‘seven-day opening.

THE first Sensory Friendly Day took place in August and drew 255 visitors, comparing favorably to previous morning or evening sensory sessions which had gathered around 30 people.

While the growing numbers are encouraging, the program is not a lucrative exercise and is part of the educational strand of the institution’s work – supported in part by the People’s Postal Code Lottery. “Tickets for the sessions are free because they are motivated by the good they do rather than a business imperative,” says Nurick.

“While closing the museum specifically for these events in the future would result in a loss of other income, this is part of our larger social purpose and is essential to V&A Dundee’s role in the city.”

The next Sensory Friendly Day at V&A Dundee will take place on October 19, in conjunction with the current exhibition Night Fever: Designing Club Culture