Inclusion is a mindset, not just a philosophy. Creating inherently inclusive designs and interpretation means that content is more robust and appealing. Working with the Old Royal Naval College (ORNC) I embarked on a year-long odyssey exploring different aspects of the design approach and narrative interpretation for the Painted Hall in Greenwich — an 18th-century masterpiece of decorative painting, described as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the UK’. What an inspiring process, at the heart of which was the expertise, creativity and openness of the Access Panel. Working with the Access Panel and Anna Mason (then Interpretation Manager), Sarah Duthie (then Director of Visitor Experience), Molly Bretton (mentor and Access Manager, Royal Academy), and Simon Leach (exhibition designer) was one of the most rewarding and invigorating experiences I have had the privilege to be a part of.
Over the course of a year (plus!) we regularly convened to develop and refine interpretation and test designs. We worked collaboratively across the board to design inclusive experiences for everyone. While we weren’t able to implement everything, together we were able to develop interpretation that was layered, nuanced and engaging. The end results include:
a tactile map of the entire site (yet to be installed), that depicts the powerful symmetry of Christopher Wren’s design;
touchable objects integrated into the interpretation panels that also serve to signpost themes and key ideas;
mirrored tables with tactile panels that focus in on the Lower Hall in a structured and kinaesthetic way.
Receiving direct and open feedback and listening to people’s first-hand experiences was inspiring and enabled us to develop designs that resonated with all audiences in structured and meaningful ways. I learned some incredibly useful things along the way, many of which are good practice for any and all meetings, to be honest! But I thought it might be helpful to set out some basic tips here:
Having an Access Panel that meets regularly is a commitment not just on your part, but on the part of the panel participants. From the outset, make sure everyone understands how much time will be required of them and over what period of time.
Send out an agenda and any materials that can be reviewed ahead of time, and do this at least one week in advance.
Make sure there are people to meet and greet the panel members who can guide them to the meeting space, as needed (and be sure there are people to guide panelists to whatever form of transport afterwards!).
When arranging meeting times, be sure to consider the amount of time needed for BSL interpretation, as this makes meetings run slightly longer.
Arrange the meeting room so there are clear sight-lines to interpreters and repeat questions so that everyone can hear them.
Establish a clear set of house rules.
Have a place to record but “park” key issues that might be tangential to the current conversation — this is incredibly valuable, especially when there is a limited amount of time.
Be transparent: From the outset, be clear about which steps and comments can be taken onboard now, and which will need to be tabled, and why. It is useful to start each meeting with a quick review of actions taken onboard from the previous session.
If you have any thoughts or ideas you would like to share about your experiences with accessibility, please do get in touch!