Since 2005 older people have been the fastest-growing visitor group to UK museums and galleries. Despite this, many venues are not yet catering to the very specific needs of their growing demographic.
According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), there are more than two million people living with sight loss in the UK today, and while sight loss can affect anyone of any age, older people are increasingly likely to experience it. As our ageing population continues to grow, so will the number of those affected by the condition, with an estimated four million expected to be living with sight loss by 2050.
Professor Anne Chick, Head of the School of Design at the University of Lincoln, led an innovative new project to explore the best ways of designing and curating exhibitions to make them more accessible to blind and partially sighted people.
The University was awarded more than £110,000 from Arts Council England, the DRILL (Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning initiative – a five-year scheme led by disabled people and funded by the Big Lottery Fund), and the National Centre for Craft & Design for the project.
Working closely with the National Centre for Craft & Design in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, as well as the RNIB Regional Centre (Midlands), Age UK Lincoln, and volunteers who are blind or visually impaired, Professor Chick set out to co-research and co-produce a multi-sensory non-permanent exhibition.
The exhibition, 3D Printing: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful, provided an immersive experience that included light, sound, and touch to create new levels of accessibility for audiences. Over 12 weeks, the Centre welcomed more than 15,000 visitors, of which 63 per cent were over 60 years old.
The findings of the research project have now been used to develop practical guidance for other national and regional visual arts venues and museums.
Professor Anne Chick
Sight loss affects people of all ages, but as we get older we are increasingly likely to experience it. Our work will demonstrate how anyone with sight loss can have intellectual access on equal terms when visiting their local galleries and museums, and it was an honour to curate, design and test an inclusive and accessible exhibition at the National Centre for Craft & Design. We will be sharing our findings and developing practical guidance so that other national and regional visual arts venues and museums can draw on our experiences when they are planning their own exhibitions in the future.
Meet the Expert
Professor Anne Chick,
Lincoln School of Design
Professor Anne Chick is considered an early key contributor to the research and practice of design for sustainability in the UK and internationally. Her work specialises in social design, co-production, design for social innovation.