Wonderlab: The Bramall Gallery will be a space for everyone. At the forefront of our creative development process is the focus to ensure our new interactive gallery is accessible and inclusive. We want everyone to feel they belong in the gallery, where they can think like engineers as they explore a variety of interactive exhibits. To achieve a space that we can be proud to say is open for all, we have taken many considerations throughout the gallery’s development, in collaboration with Accessibility and Inclusive Design Consultant Emily Yates, from Mima Group.
The Social Model of Disability focuses on the barriers within society that disable people, rather than on an individual’s impairment or condition. Guided by this outlook, we have taken a pan-disability approach to the design, considering both visible and non-visible disabilities. We have removed physical, sensory, and intellectual barriers wherever possible and provided alternative, equivalent routes to accessing the content where necessary.
Access and inclusion extend beyond disability, in creating a new interactive gallery, we have broadened our considerations to protected characteristics which can often exclude individuals, or mean they have temporary or situational access requirements. It’s important Wonderlab is a place people feel they can visit, enjoy, and belong, no matter their age, gender, race or religion.
A crucial part of our work with our access consultant Emily Yates was engaging with a lived-experience user group to gain feedback on several exhibit designs. This evaluation ensured we considered a wide range of needs and wishes, beyond the baseline requirements of accessibility, building empathy into the museum’s design process and beyond.
Throughout the process we have taken both an aspirational and pragmatic approach. The iterative design process has highlighted that it is an impossibility to provide a ‘fully accessible’ set of interactive exhibits, as in designing access focused for one need can omit another. Emily Yates explains ‘There are many benefits to engaging with users (visitors and/or staff) who are experts in their own lived experience. One of these relates to figuring out and establishing a hierarchy of needs or, in other words, accepting and understanding that there is no such thing as a ‘fully accessible’ solution for all, and that access and inclusion measures also have to fit in with the safety and security agendas of the museum as a whole.’
Working with the Communities and Partnerships team, we led workshops with local charity The Snappy Trust. These sessions provided a vital insight into what was important to disabled young people, to establish our interactive learning space in being a place for them. Their impact has directly inspired elements of artist commission piece Play Revolution.
With 18 exhibits and two art commissions, there is something for everyone, as well as opportunities for disabled and non-disabled visitors to explore and collaborate together. We understand different features and content will interest different people, and to differing degrees. Some individuals will revel in the busyness and large-scale excitement of interactives like our Great Machine and Route Finder, while others might enjoy smaller intricacies to focus on, like building small-scale structures or solving puzzles, which invite a more measured approach. With the whole of Wonderlab to enjoy, individuals can spend as little or as much time as they like exploring each interactive exhibit. Following the theme of engineering skills and ways of thinking, there is a variation in the exhibits for individuals to find what piques their interest, what they can access with ease, and simply what they find fun!
Beyond exhibit design, access and inclusion has been at the forefront of the development of interpretation, spatial features, the visitor’s journey, dwell spaces, live show spaces and supportive online resources. In our next steps leading up to, and beyond, the opening of Wonderlab, we are working on how the operations of the space can come together with the physical design to create an inclusive end-to-end experience. The key to this will be the amazing work of our Explainers who will be present in the gallery day-to-day.
Explainers will enhance the development of science capital and learning through a live programme of demonstrations and science shows, as well as one-to-one interaction. They will answer questions to help understanding of the content, as well as provide extensions to learning. This will allow the visitor’s needs to be individually catered to, by providing support using physical explanatory aids, as well as making practical adjustments to ensure exhibits work for individuals. In preparation for this, we are working with the learning team to develop knowledge and awareness of varying access requirements, with disability awareness training provided by Emily Yates, for Explainers to understand how their role can make a real difference to an individual’s experience in Wonderlab.