It belongs in a museum’ – Essex SLC event success

Over 36 blind and partially sighted residents across Essex came together to learn more about audio description at Essex Sight Loss Council’s (SLC) ‘It belongs in a museum’ event last month.

Essex SLC is working to increase the accessibility of arts and culture across the region. This includes work with Chelmsford Museum, Chelmsford Theatre, and Chelmsford Area Access Group, to improve accessibility for blind and partially sighted (BPS) people.

At the event, we were joined by guest speakers from Chelmsford Museum and VocalEyes. Museum staff discussed the impact of their work with Essex SLC and the changes they have made as a result. This work includes accessibility checks of their rebranding, multiple vision awareness sessions for staff, and increasing the font size on labels. Staff then shared more on their current exhibits and engaged with attendees on what else they could do to make the museum even more accessible.

Jessica Beal, Marketing and Audience Manager at VocalEyes, then spoke about how audio description in live theatre works. She also shared details of some of the local heritage sites that VocalEyes has worked with locally to increase accessibility for BPS people. Jessica gave attendees the opportunity to touch tactile poppies and listen to examples of audio description (AD) on headsets. This was to give people an understanding of what to expect if they book an AD performance or a touch tour. Attendees reported they are more inclined to book onto these performances now they are aware of them locally.

Jessica Beal from Vocal Eyes, talking to delegates at Essex SLC's audio description event. Delegates are looking towards her as she talks into a microphone.

Jessica Beal from VocalEyes, talking to attendees at the event

Feedback from the day

Lee Mercer, Essex SLC member, said:

“It was great to see so many people turn up and engage with our speakers from the museum, theatre, and VocalEyes. People seemed really interested in the initiatives being put forward to make venues more accessible. The more people who know about what is available, the more they can be used and appreciated.

“If Essex SLC can help to provide blind and partially sighted people with better services, then I feel like we are having a positive impact on the community. That makes me immensely proud of what we do.”

Samantha Leftwich, Engagement Manager for East England, said:

“Essex SLC was delighted to hold their ‘It Belongs in a Museum’ event in Rayleigh. We wanted to highlight some of the great work that is happening in the county to make arts and culture accessible to blind and partially sighted people – giving a platform for the organisations and venues that are leading the way.

“It was fantastic to hear about the history of the museum, and their plans to continue their work with us to improve access. Speakers were able to network and it was brilliant to hear their plans to work with each other further in the future.”

Sam Fox, Essex SLC member, with Samantha Leftwich, Engagement Manager for East England. Sam is talking into a microphone as she hosts the event. Samantha is standing next to her, laughing.

Sam Fox, Essex SLC member, hosted the event. Pictured here with Samantha Leftwich, Engagement Manager for East England

Dr Mark Curteis, Assistant Museums Manager – Curatorial and Learning, Chelmsford Museum, added:

“I was delighted to attend Essex Sight Loss Council’s event. I enjoyed talking to the attendees, hearing their experiences, and being given the opportunity to tell people about how Essex SLC has helped us make Chelmsford Museum more accessible and welcoming to vision impaired (VI) visitors.

“I was especially interested in the tactile art project Sam discussed, and how the museum may be able to work with Jessica from VocalEyes to tell the stories behind our objects on display.”

Michelle Thomson, Attendee and General Manager at BASIS, finished by saying:

“BASIS were delighted to welcome Essex Sight Loss Council to Rayleigh Baptist Church. It was great they could share so much valuable information with the visually impaired community in Rayleigh.

“We learnt so much about accessible exhibitions at Chelmsford Museum, and the wonderful work of VocalEyes. We hope those who attended will now visit these attractions, safe in the knowledge they have been made more accessible through their work with Essex SLC.

“It was great to hear everyone getting involved with questions and learning about other ways they can have their voices heard around the issues that are important to them.”

Dr Mark Curteis, Assistant Museums Manager at Chelmsford Museum, standing in front of delegates at Essex SLC's audio description event. Delegates are sat around tables, listening to him as he talks.

Dr Mark Curteis from Chelmsford Museum, presenting to attendees at the event

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Publication date: 29 November 2023

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