By Odutola Christian Amans
Museums are created by people for the people. Achieving this objective is based on the knowledge, awareness and responsibility of each member of staff of the museum. But as professionals in the institution, a major collective responsibility is accommodating every category of individuals in the society, since museum is seen as the knowledge bank and the mirror that reflects the society.
The museum needs to transform into inclusive and inviting spaces for visitors who identify themselves across the spectrum of person with special need. This is imperative because of the United Nations Convention on the Right of Person with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which came into being in 2006 at the UN headquarters in New York. As museum professionals there is the need to always think beyond how we could make collections and exhibitions more engaging for visitors of all abilities. This will break down mental barriers among staff in what they think they know about visitors with special needs.
As museum professional, Identify the area of special need to enable you know the appropriate activities to employ considering their age bracket. Children between age five to ten; for example the visually impaired, could be engaged in bead making, this will keep them busy and will make them visit the museum again. For the hearing impaired, knowledge of sign language is important for effective communication with them, this will explain to them what the particular museum is all about. Then for those who are handicap in one way or the other like; the business executive ,housewife, prison inmate, internally displaced person etc, the museum professional can easily embark on an outreach program by taking object exhibition to their domain and displaying them in a safe platform which they can see at the given opportunity or chance they have.
It is the duty of museum professionals not just to ensure that there is provision for guided tours, tactile paths, Braille signage and models of real collection that will address the needs of special visitors, but an atmosphere that will make them want to come to the museum over and over again.
To guarantee a congenial atmosphere for people with special need whenever they visit the museum as a professional, it is of great importance that training should be given to all levels of museum staff to appreciate the psyche of visitors with impairments because a tour especially planned for a group of impaired persons will lose all value if the gallery attendants make disparaging comments. This attitude should be highly prohibited among museum staff because proper management of attitude issues towards this group in museum education will mean happy visits for them.
As professional, it is your duty to create a warm and friendly atmosphere to make the visitors relax and relish the tour. To achieve this, the following must be put into consideration.
Introduction:- it is the duty of the museum professional to ensure that the visitors with special need understand the identity of the museum guide especially if the visitor is blind.
Background knowledge:- While still at the introduction, it is your duty to find out the level of knowledge they already have about your exhibition, to enable you know the best method to apply.
Tour Rules:- After introduction, you intimate them with the rules of the gallery to avoid unnecessary embarrassment.
Orientation of the museum complex:- This is necessary to show the visitors the craft shop, toilet facilities, library, e.t.c.
Exhibit Good Conversation : – Say nice things to the visitor after the tour.
As a museum professional, another most important consideration to be given to persons with special needs to encourage their visit to the museum environment is safety. Then also develop educational program that will be of benefit to them; the individual should have the ability of systematically arrange instructional materials and activities to facilitate specific learning objective in making museum collection accessible, interactive and engaging to the people with special need. This will empower them to take lead and seek their imputes in creating environment that is accessible as pertaining their needs, hence the need for unrelenting encouragement for them.
Odutola Christian Amans is the Assistant Chief Heritage Officer, National Museum Akure