What are we trying to do?
The UK heritage sector wants to offer all visitors memorable, inclusive, engaging and enjoyable experiences. Museums are increasingly providing access to their exhibitions, narratives and artefacts for everyone. This evolving practice includes ‘access’ provision such as audio description, British Sign Language (BSL), audio-guides, interactive content, and community and educational programming. This provision is usually created for people who cannot experience the museum in traditional ways. Yet, this reliance on ‘access’ provision to support non-traditional visitors perpetuates a gap between ‘abled’ and ‘disabled’ people. This gap implies that non-normative ways of experiencing the museum are less valid or important than traditional ones. The Sensational Museum asks how this ‘access’ provision can be redesigned so that it can benefit all museum audiences.
What is the ‘traditional’ way of accessing a museum?
Most museums are created by and for non-blind (sighted) people. (This blog post explains why we use the word ‘non-blind’ rather than the word ‘sighted’.) This means that museums often assume that sight is a desirable – even necessary – part of the optimal museum experience. Even if non-visual alternatives are offered, the predominance of sight as the ‘main’ or ‘best’ way risks alienating people who prefer to access and process information in ways that are not only – or not entirely – visual.
The Challenge: how can museums create inclusive interventions (interventions accessible to everyone) without having to spend time and money on also creating ‘accessible’ programming for minority audiences.
The Sensational Museum aims to address this systemic issue by rethinking the role and place of the senses in the museum. We reject two orthodox assumptions about the senses:
- there is a fixed array of five bodily senses
- sight is the most important sense of all
Instead, we are exploring a new sensory logic. We are using the liberating notion of ‘Sensory Gain’ and the idea that everyone can benefit from the ‘access’ traditionally offered only to disabled visitors.
What is Sensory Gain: Building on the idea of ‘Blindness Gain’, ‘sensory gain’ suggests that engaging several senses can enhance a person’s experience of something whether or not they need to use that sense for ‘access’ purposes.
You can visit our Glossary for definitions of our key terms
Our research aims not only to articulate what such ‘trans-sensory’ thinking and practices might be, but also to demonstrate and test this approach within the context of real-world museum collection and communication. By doing this we want to evidence the value of ‘trans-sensory’ approaches for practitioners, policymakers and standards agencies.
We will leverage inter-disciplinary research by bringing together insights and methods from museum studies, critical disability studies, psychology and design. We embrace a co-creative and inclusive methodology where disabled and non-disabled stakeholders are involved in every phase of research design and delivery.
We bring together partners who are committed to creative and profound transformation of museum practice. You can explore our range of partners on the Partners section.
This multi-partner project is not just a project about making museums accessible to disabled people. It is a project that uses what we know about disability to change how museums work for everyone.
Our research will use an interative design logic to structure and drive its work. First, we will prepare a blueprint for a new sensory logic. Then, we will then prototype an inclusive, co-creation toolkit and a trans-sensory data model and interface. Next, we will pilot and evaluate these prototypes with museum professionals and visitors across the UK. Finally we will refine and promotethe outputs in publications, conferences and at showcase events.
The Sensational Museum will produce a radically new way of thinking about museum experience for both practitioners and visitors.
Demonstrate and test
Consequently, our research aims (ambitiously and audaciously) not only to articulate what such ‘trans-sensory’ thinking and practices might be, but to demonstrate and test this approach within the context of real-world museum collection and communication – evidencing its value for practitioners, policymakers and standards agencies.
New way of thinking
Is your museum sensational?
Is your museum sensational? We’re keen to showcase examples of good and interesting practice from museums and heritage sites around the UK of accessible and inclusive design, resources and practice generally.
If you’d like to feature work from your museum or heritage site, please tell us about it using the form below, and include a link to information about it on your website. We’ll be in touch if we have any questions, and to let you know if/when we feature it here on The Sensational Museum.