March 2014, London

Many thanks to Poppy Szaybo for organising yet another smashing meeting (which was more like a mini conference or seminar) on the theme of programmes engaging people with learning difficulties/disabilities.

There was an interesting discussion on the correct terminology that should be used which is to be continued.  There was a range of advice. Learning difficulty can be used to refer to dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and similar learning issues and people on the autism spectrum may also have a learning disability. SEBD refers to Social, Emotional Behaviour Disability. However, there appears to be some preference for either term. The medical and social model of disability was raised to frame the discussion. It was also suggested that you go with the terminology used by your partners and advisers. We heard that Pallant House’s approach is not to use labels at all.

The following organisations presented their programme development, outcomes, reflections and learning.

National Portrait Gallery
Old Royal Navel College

There are others who have done interesting work in this area too including; English Heritage , Historic Royal Palaces, Pallant House and the Science Museum (check out their brilliant quiet time programme that opens the galleries before opening to young people who require a quieter environment in which to learn. It made me think of recommendations made by Autism in the Museum). Thanks too for interesting insights shared from the BBC around film making.

This was followed by an open and candid Q&A session.

Key learning points included:

  • The importance of learning from pees when you get going
  • The importance of good partners and advisers such as Mencap, Westminister Society, Shape etc.. who can refer and deal with application processes etc..
  • The importance of structure, keeping to a usual structure or agreeing a structure together.
  • Staff consistency.
  • The importance of support workers
  • The difficulty around informed consent and variable decisions and range of behaviours
  • An insight into the realities of the lives of many people who require both stimulus and social activity.
  • The importance of displaying and acknowledging work.
  • The high aesthetic quality of (art) work produced by participants and challenging internal prejudice around this issue
  • The importance of training and contact with gallery staff and catering staff. the whole business then benefits from the extra skills gained. Approaching all groups, especially unbooked self directed groups and asking for their needs is essential.
  • Canny use of IPADs (Check out funding for digital technologies)
  • The usefulness of outdoor spaces
  • When thinking about any issues (including consent and programming) it is always useful to ask ourselves is it in the participants best interests (or are we doing this for ourselves/funders/box ticking/advocacy) this self questioning helps us remain ethical.

Out of context and without the detail this list above is of limited use. The best way to learn more about working with this audience group is to either attend the next DHG meeting on this theme or meetings and hear the candid sharing or approach peer organisations directly. We have included some links to projects here to help you research.

Tracy-Ann updated the group on where DHG is heading in the medium and longer term.  She addressed all the questions raised in the previous meeting regarding organisational status, structures and processes and the eventual move to CIC status. She has prepared a detailed Q and A to be circulated to those present and has promised to beef up the website with more information. Regarding the move to membership Tracy-Ann confirmed that VOLUNTARY MEMBERSHIP IS NOW OPEN! if you share DHG’s idea of what we could be and want to be part of us formalising and getting the necessary infrastructure in place to take our next step then just contact us to join. The move to mandatory membership will be announced shortly.

Tracy-Ann thanked Jen for moving us closer to membership, Alis for her hard work on the website, Poppy for developing the London programme and group so brilliantly and Tola and Rosie for getting the HE strand going and to everyone who continues to contribute to DHG. Free membership is offered to anyone who gets involved in DHG because as we grow we want to keep grass roots decision making and encourage a participatory, co-operative ethos.

The Science Museum reiterated their call for papers for their November Conference @Interpreting the Information Age’ new avenues for research and display November 3rd – 5th 2014. Day three focuses on participation int he exhibition process with audiences would be relevant to us.





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