South Western Federation of Museums and Art Galleries

Case Study 1 - Challenging Disability

The challenge

CS1_garden3_smallWe felt that people with mental and physical disabilities were significantly under-represented in our volunteer workforce and we wished to address this.

What we did

Our new Volunteer Coordinator (10 hours per week) was given a brief to recruit particular under-represented groups, including those with disabilities.  At about the same time we were approached by a local voluntary organisation about possible opportunities for young people and adults with mental health and physical disabilities to work in the museum.  We went about recruiting them in exactly the same way as all other volunteers, interviewing them for roles, asking them what they preferred to do and giving them appropriate training.  We have a policy that volunteers should be allowed to ‘have a go’ and if they make a mistake, ‘the world is not going to come to an end’.  This policy has given all volunteers, with a disability or not, great confidence and enabled them to grow in their roles in a very real way.

Current disabled volunteers are carrying out roles including: collections care, IT systems and data entry.  Their disabilities are no barriers to the work they do or their enjoyment of their work.  We like to feel they are not disabled but enabled!

Resourcing and management

No additional or special resourcing was required for this work as it has been integral with the management of all volunteers.  If anyone has any concerns about the welfare of one of our ‘disabled’ volunteers, the museum has a specific contact with whom they can discuss whether the museum is doing all it can to make the volunteer feel comfortable and confident in their role.  All volunteers help each other out and take responsibility for each other and this has proved no different with volunteers with disabilities. 

High points/ successes

Watching people blossom and grow in confidence in their roles has been a real high point of this work.  Our volunteers seem to gain a new belief in themselves, learn new skills and overcome real difficulties.  It is a privilege to watch and a wonderful community role for the museum.

Low points/ concerns

Working in a museum is not for everyone and that is no different for our volunteers with disabilities; a few find it is not for them.  Also, more resources for training museum staff in working with vulnerable adults would be beneficial.

Contact Emma Ayling, Curator, by email at: , or by telephone at the Priest’s House on: 01202 882533.

Date of activity described in case study: Started in 2006 but on-going; no planned end-date
Case study review date: Q3 2012