16 Sep 2016

Disabled Access Day at Thinktank

Thinktank, as with all of our Birmingham Museums sites, has always aimed to make the museum and its collection as accessible to all our visitors as possible. We aim to offer an enlightening and fun packed day out for the family. From steam engines and talking robots through to gurgling guts and a chocolate wrapping machine, Thinktank has over 200 hands-on displays related to science and technology over four floors. We also have hands-on exhibits and historical collections, showing the science of the world all around us, including the Science Garden, Planetarium and an exciting programme of events and activities, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

This was Thinktank’s first year in getting involved with Disabled Access Day. We found out about Disabled Access Day from the Euan's Guide e-bulletin, and knew it was an event we would love to get involved in.

What did we do on Disabled Access Day?

We thought about what activities we could offer; we have a wonderful group of object handling sessions which offer all our visitors the ability to interact with real objects, through both sight and touch, with a museum enabler on hand to explain what the objects are and how they all link together. 

The planetarium is one of the most popular parts of our museum. The dome has wheelchair accessible spaces, and subtitled shows are shown on the last show of the day on Fridays and the first show of the day on Saturdays. The planetarium also has BSL shows which are available on request, so we decided to programme these into our timetable for Disabled Access Day.

We also encouraged our staff to take handling objects onto the galleries, providing another opportunity for our visitors to hold and see a variety of artefacts from medical instruments, early cameras to fossilised dinosaur poo! We also created a gallery trail of sensory exhibits for visitors to follow.

Disabled Access Day

How did the museum prepare for Disabled Access Day?

Members of staff and our access team first thought about what the museum currently has on offer to aid access to the Thinktank;

  • Both Thinktank and Millennium Point have lifts to all floors
  • Wheelchairs are available to borrow and space is available in all areas
  • There are accessible toilets on all levels and baby change and adult change facilities are available 
  • Large print maps are available from our ticket desk on Level 2
  • Assistance Dogs are very welcome and a water bowl is available for use
  • Fixed induction loops are placed at key points in the museum and portable ones are available to borrow 
  • We have downloadable social stories which use images and easy to read English to provide an overview of a visit. These are available on our Facilities & Accessibility  page
  • A virtual tour of Thinktank has been created by Autism West Midlands
  • A quiet room available to our visitors to use

Then we thought about what other activities and further training we could do in preparation for Disabled Access Day;

  • We thought about what activities we could offer which we already do
  • We also thought about additional activities; such as additional staff training with welcome BSL signs and developing a sensory trail
  • We advertised on Euan's Guide website
  • We refreshed all staff access training
  • We advertised on social media
  • We created surveys to undertake on the day
  • And we looked at visitors from week before and year before to see any differences in disabled and concession tickets
  • This feedback was then communicated internally back to all our staff

What impact has being involved in Disabled Access Day had on Thinktank?

It’s had a very positive influence. Spreading the word about what we do and reaching new potential audience members can be challenging so this was a great opportunity to raise awareness. It has also had a creative influence on the team and is part of the development of more access events at Thinktank and at other Birmingham Museums sites. For example, at Thinktank Sarah Beet has been part of creating and delivering our first early doors opening, as part of Autism Awareness Week. We sent out 150 invites to families for entry to the museum and we opened earlier so that visitors could experience the museum without the volume of regular customers. This proved so successful that we have decided to run other events at regular intervals. At Soho House Louise Deakin has started a Dementia Café on the first Friday of each month between 11am and 12.30pm until December.

What are our plans for getting involved in Disabled Access Day 2017?

I think for Disabled Access Day 2017 we are going to start planning earlier so that we can deliver even more activities, such as meet the experts. This would also give us a great opportunity to work with more of our colleagues from across Birmingham Museums sites, sharing our expertise to offer an even better event.

What advice would we give to venues considering getting involved in Disabled Access Day?

Go for it! It really gives people the chance to come and visit you and discover what you do. We had positive feedback from visitors and there were lots of highlights - including one of our members of staff being able to use BSL for the first time to help communicate with a hearing impaired visitor!