For International Museum’s month in May and in continuation with the global theme, “Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion”, the University of Pretoria (UP) Museums are highlighting accessibility and disabilities within the museum environment.
Many museums have not always been open to welcoming people of all backgrounds, particularly those with disabilities, in fact this is a social and marginalisation issue. Increasingly, museum’s need to actively engage with people with disabilities, and so adjust and change their services and programmes to be more encompassing, for wider access to a diversity of people in order to be truly seen as educationally inclusive.
Since last year, the Museum’s facilitated specialized tours, specifically geared towards the inclusion of people with disabilities. The UP Museums have collaborated with the first-year university student, Mr Rohan Crafford and his guide dog Dixie (SA Guide Dogs Association) on a one-on-one basis, to train and experience tailor-made tours for people with visual disabilities. According to Nicole Hoffmann, the Museum Interpretative Officer who initiated this outreach, “it’s about inclusivity and accessibility of university museums, to be welcoming to everyone, not just abled audiences, but also persons with disabilities and to allow the galleries, archives and collections to be experienced by all”.
This museum outreach programme has significantly expanded and many more disabilities have been encountered in a university museum environment. As a result, the UP Museum’s continue to expanded their educational engagement and collaborated with the Disability Unit of the University of Pretoria, as well as the student organization known as Beyond Our Limiting Disabilities or BOLD. This collaboration has been beneficial to all and are ensuring that the Museums are even more accessible than before. The bespoke tours are planned for and research is required to ensure that sensitivities and practicalities are considered for each specialised tour to accommodate people with other physical disabilities including mental disabilities.
While the University of Pretoria remains closed as a result of the effects of Covid-19, ongoing museum collaboration with the Disability Unit will continue to widen accessibility to students living with disabilities and will encourage future regular visits into the museum galleries. Both museum buildings are disabled friendly, with ramps, lifts and even-touch friendly displays and specialised tours for the disabled can be booked in advance, once the UP Museum’s re-open.
The Museums will highlight the need for more meaningful accessibility again on 3 December 2020, when the International Day of Disabled Persons will be highlighted. Globally, this day seeks to promote the rights and well-being of people with disabilities and in increasing awareness of the needs of the disabled. Over the past two months, the UP Museums have successfully improved the accessibility of museum content digitally and as part of a long-term strategy, special attention will be given to sensory and physically impaired experiences in the museum galleries to meet the goal of being inclusive university museums.
In celebration of International Museum Month, the UP Museums want to highlight the important role that university museums play and the work done by staff to ensure those living with disabilities can enjoy and appreciate the diversity of cultural and art offerings within the University of Pretoria.