Space for Learning

The floor in the learning space at Manchester City Art Gallery being used as a work space by families © Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester Metropolitan University

Your audiences

Early Years audiences and audiences with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Some audiences rely more on touch than others as a method of learning. This is especially true for Early Years and for children and adults with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities – SEN/SEND.

For Early Years practice, consider:

  • The experience. Maintain a balance between the needs, rights and experiences of children and the measures that must be put in place to reduce risk of infection. Reducing contact between young children during Early Years sessions is difficult; risk can be mitigated by regularly cleaning surfaces, objects and toys. Avoid using objects and toys with intricate parts or made from materials that can’t be easily cleaned.
  • Contact between families. Encourage adults and children from the same household to interact with each other and not across family bubbles. Can handling objects and toys be used solely by one family group during a closed museum session? Can you position families in socially distanced spaces? Consider measures for wandering children! How will this impact on workshop delivery, quality assurance and the overall experience?
  • Contact between families and members of staff. Implement measures that limit the number of contacts between children and unrelated adults (for example, seat a storyteller at a social distance from listening families).
  • Hygiene procedures. Regularly clean frequently touched surfaces such as table tops, play equipment, toys, handrails and door handles. Refer to the HSE guidance. Handwashing is key: have you got access to handwashing facilities before and after object handling or play? If not, can you use bubble group buckets of warm soapy water? How will this be managed in the space, time and with mess limitation? Consider the swallow risk of hand sanitiser and the impact on delicate skin. 
  • Capacity. Drop-in sessions in public and closed learning spaces will be difficult to manage. Consider making them into bookable sessions to manage numbers or create targeted programmes (for example, open to an invited group of participants only).

Early Years case studies

Manchester Museum have continued their Muso-Baby session virtually during lockdown. It’s a closed session for parents referred from social care settings. Relationships are vitally important.  

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

For Special Educational Needs and Disabilities practice, consider:

  • Information prior to a visit. Social stories, or filmed introductions, are a good way to convey what a visit might be like and how this has changed to make the building Covid Secure.
  • Talking to audiences and groups about their comfort levels around returning in the short, medium and long term. Some groups with complex needs may have particular health needs to consider. There is likely to be a deeper level of conversation with those with whom you have a pre-existing relationship.
  • Accessibility. What and where are the touch points that make a visit accessible (large print guides, braille panels, touch screens, tactile surfaces)? How can these be cleaned on a regular basis, or rotated? Can visitors help by cleaning before and after touching, or using hand sanitiser? Talk to venue colleagues. Will this impact on staffing?
  • Consider the impact of PPE and hygiene procedures on your staff welcome. Some people may dislike the texture of hand sanitiser, or nitrile gloves. Are there hand washing or glove alternatives? PPE and face coverings, can be intimidating for some neurodiverse people, and hinder lip reading for those who are visually impaired.
  • Digital inclusion. Some digital methods may exclude those with additional needs. The DCN digital inclusion standards may help aid thinking.

Direct Access offer excellent accessibility services and have experience of working with the arts, cultural and heritage sector. They offer audits, training and free resources covering physical, online and learning access.

RNIB have issued some useful guidance for retailers that may provide a starting point for supporting visitors who would usually rely on being physically guided.

Special education needs (SEN) case studies

Natural History Museum, London, have pivoted to digital engagement for Dawnosaurs Online for children with neurodiverse conditions and sensory processing difficulties.  

Melbourne Museum, Australia, have created specific Covid-19 related social stories.   

Useful online resources relating to working with audiences