Colour photograph of a white caravan from outside the wooden orchard gates, framed by trees, with a red brick tiled cottage behind it. If you look very carefully, you can see a Westie immediately behind the gate.

 

Holton Lee
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Initial suggestions from Ju Gosling for the Holton Lee National Disability Arts Archive

Facilities

Should include:

  • Object store (with a future expansion plan)
  • Area for handling/cataloguing/conserving objects by staff and handling by researchers/visitors (remember conserving can involve the use of chemicals)
  • Office area including ample filing space for contracts with artists and other lenders/donors, insurance documents, contracts for exhibition tours and all the other paperwork that can’t be held electronically
  • Study/resource area including DVD/CD and print publication library
  • Fully accessible toilet (including hoist space)
  • Adequate space in all areas for visually impaired people and users of large wheelchairs to circulate safely and easily
  • Level access to all areas if at all possible (ramps hinder independent access for manual wheelchair users)
  • Fixed rather than flexible use of space and siting of fittings to enable blind and visually impaired people to navigate easily

NB Exhibition and meeting spaces already exist on the site so are probably unnecessary here.

Lighting

Must be:

  • High level (to meet the needs of visually impaired people as well as to illuminate the detail on objects)
  • Daylight spectrum (for access as well as aesthetic reasons)
  • Easy to switch on and off (e.g. by touch pad, remote control – but ensure controls are accessible to visually impaired people)

Must not:

Allow direct sunlight or similar to fall on objects (because of light damage); computer screens (because of reflections); and print publications (because text on shiny paper becomes impossible for many people to read if light reflects off it)

Acoustics

Must be:

  • Good quality
  • Absorb low-spectrum vibrations etc

Must not:

  • Leak sound between working areas
  • Reflect background noise

Temperature and humidity

Must be:

  • Constant
  • Warm enough to meet the needs of people with low mobility (who will feel the cold much more and will find it much harder to warm up again once cold than those with greater mobility)
  • Compliant with gallery/object storage standards

Air circulation

Must be:

  • Compliant with gallery/object store standards
  • Able to maximise the oxygen content of the air

Must not:

  • Generate draughts

Colour

Must be:

  • Able to maximise visually impaired and dyslexic people’s ability to navigate the space by the use of high contrasts to denote entrances/exits, working surfaces, different working areas etc

Must not:

  • Increase depression/anxiety/aggression

NB: Traditional colour palettes in fine art reflect Enlightenment ideals of the restrained body and rational mind. The disability arts movement, in contrast, celebrates the unrestrained body and the irrational mind, and so the colour palettes used vary in this respect.

Surfaces

Must be:

  • Tactile or include tactile strips or similar to aid navigation by visually impaired people etc

Must not:

  • Reflect sound

Flooring

Must be:

  • Hard surface with low traction (for ease of wheelchair use)

Must not:

  • Reflect sound
  • Create trip hazards

Signage

Must be:

  • Prominent
  • Positioned high enough to be seen from wheelchair height etc
  • Easy to read
  • Include symbols for people with learning difficulties/print impairments
  • Non-reflective

Working surfaces

Must be:

  • Height adjustable (to meet the needs of different wheelchair users, people with restricted growth, people with spinal impairments that require them to work standing etc)
  • Positioned so that they allow an unrestricted view of the rest of the space they are in, including any entrances and exits (so that Deaf and hearing impaired people can rely on their vision to know who is coming in and out and so that those who have anxiety conditions can feel safe in the space)
  • Positioned so that sound reflections are minimised

Door furniture, switching systems, height adjustable systems, object stacks etc etc

Must be:

  • Accessible to people with reduced grip/strength/energy/control
  • Accessible to people with the above plus the use of one rather than two hands
  • Accessible to people from varying heights (to meet the needs of wheelchair users, people with restricted growth, people with spinal impairments that require them to work standing etc)

Security

Must be:

  • Secure against theft
  • Protected from flood
  • Incorporate fire prevention systems that minimise the risk to the objects and documents stored on the premises
  • Enable safe exit for people with a wide variety of sensory, mobility and intellectual impairments

Post-Part M publicly funded arts buildings to learn lessons from:

1) Dance venue

This venue is held up as an example of great access. However –

  • There is very little seating in the foyer and the bar seating is very high, despite the fact that many people with mobility impairments attend the theatre without wheelchairs and cannot stand comfortably for any length of time. (In general it is more difficult for people with mobility impairments to stand still than to walk.)
  • The acoustics in the foyer and upper levels are appalling, with sound bouncing round the entire height of the building. Events on the mezzanine and other floors are thus rendered completely inaudible by any activity in the foyer, while all foyer transactions are inaccessible to people with hearing impairments because of the background noise.
  • There is only one accessible toilet on the ground floor, with no seating outside for people waiting to use it. The toilet is reached down the side of the bar, so that people wishing to use it have to navigate crowds of drinkers to get there and back. The siting of the other toilets on the basement floor means that non-disabled people also use the accessible toilet rather than travel down a floor (poor signage exacerbates this because no one knows where the other toilets are situated), causing more delays and stress for disabled users.
  • None of the toilets will accommodate a hoist, yet personal assistants are not allowed to lift clients on and off the toilet by law.
  • There are only two tiny public lifts to the upper floors, and one is kept locked for the sole use and convenience of their caterers. Wheelchair users and other people with mobility problems can therefore only reach the upper floors one at a time, although most non-dance events are held on these levels. Queues of 15 or more people are common at large events, making it impossible to keep events on schedule without excluding people.
  • The accessible toilet on the first floor is reached down a narrow corridor with no turning space, beyond the facilities for non-disabled people. There is no waiting space for wheelchair users that does not involve being hit by the doors every time someone enters or exits the other toilets, and no space for two wheelchair users to pass each other.
  • Facilities for visually impaired people are very poor, with no apparent attempt made to use high contrast colours etc or to think about lighting levels throughout the building.
  • There is almost no level access to the theatre itself, restricting the number of people with mobility impairments who can attend, and increasing health and safety hazards for people with visual impairments.
  • There is no dropped kerb by the Blue Badge parking space immediately outside the studio theatre, forcing wheelchair users to drive down the road against the traffic to the dropped kerb by the Stage Door.
  • The ramp to the studio theatre is very steep and continues inside, preventing independent access by manual wheelchair users. Despite this there is no bell or intercom to enable wheelchair users to call for assistance.
  • The ‘accessible’ toilet in the studio theatre requires users to navigate the length of the crowded café, turn a tight corner and go down an incline, making it anything but.
  • Disabled people are assumed to be audience members/attending events but not to work in the building. Thus access to offices, technical facilities etc is poor or non-existent.

Etc Etc Etc.

2) Community centre arts extension

  • The street level entrance is between the lower and upper ground floors with ramps leading to each, meaning that manual wheelchair users cannot access either of the ground floor levels without assistance. Independent access is therefore only possible as far as the reception desk by the door, which may not always be staffed, and thereafter dependency is enforced. The need to assist manual wheelchair users also poses a health and safety hazard to reception staff.
  • The bridge construction of the ramps involves wooden planks sitting on metal struts (or similar). The noise created by the planks banging on the struts every time anyone uses them penetrates throughout the building and makes events in the theatre and basement gallery spaces inaudible to people with hearing impairments.
  • The oxygen levels in the theatre are unacceptably low without artificial ventilation, but the air conditioning system is so noisy that people with hearing impairments cannot hear when it is switched on.
  • The door to the technician’s booth is situated immediately opposite the door to the lift but has no viewing panel, while the space between the booth and lift doors is very narrow. Anyone leaving the technician’s booth therefore opens the door directly into anyone waiting to use the lift, posing a serious health and safety hazard.
  • Access to the toilets involves tight corners and an excessive number of doors.

Etc Etc Etc.

3) Purpose-built arts centre

  • There is inadequate Blue Badge parking, meaning that disabled people often have to go home rather than access the building as planned.
  • The automatic doors open directly into the foyer/café/box office area, and create a wind tunnel effect that lowers the temperature on the mezzanine floors too. If the doors are kept in use, the temperature becomes unacceptably cold. If the automatic doors are switched off, then they cannot be used by people with a wide range of impairments.
  • The lift is so small that people using larger manual/powered chairs and scooters cannot use it, although the majority of non-theatre-based activities take place on the upper floors.
  • The accessible toilets are constructed in such a way that one on each floor cannot be exited by wheelchair users even though they can enter, continually trapping disabled people.
  • There is no air circulation in the technology studios, making working conditions uncomfortable for all and impossible for some.
  • The acoustics in the dance studio are severely affected by the noise the roof makes every time the wind blows, blocking access for people with hearing impairments and concentration problems. (The roof is supposedly of some type of cutting-edge construction.)
  • Tutors working in the dance studio are back-lit whenever they have their backs to the window side, as this is south-facing. Lip-reading is therefore impossible when this side is used for teaching, even though it is the natural side for tutors to use.
  • Artificial light levels are insufficient to allow lip-reading throughout the dance studio after dark or when natural light levels are low.
  • The bridges above the foyer which are intended as networking spaces etc are too narrow, making access difficult for people with mobility and visual impairments.
  • Disabled people are assumed to be audience members/attending events but not to work in the building. Thus access to offices, technical facilities etc is poor or non-existent.

Etc Etc Etc (including the fact that it leaks like a sieve from the roof to the basement during heavy rain).

4) Artists' studio and training facilities

  • There is no means for Blue Badge holders and taxis carrying people with mobility impairments to communicate with the reception desk, but the gates to the car park in front of the entrance are kept locked. It is therefore very difficult for people with mobility problems to get close enough to the building to enter.
  • The carpark in front of the entrance is pitted with pot holes and covered in old nails and glass, causing a hazard to people with mobility and visual impairments.
  • There is a lip to the entrance that manual wheelchair users find hard to get over.
  • The ramp from the entrance to the reception desk is unacceptably steep and ends opposite a wall, meaning that manual wheelchair users cannot enter and exit the building independently and safely.
  • All the inside surfaces reflect sound and let sound pass through them, making the acoustics appalling.
  • The meeting rooms are too small for their purpose – i.e. providing artists’ training – when wheelchair users and people with visual impairments are included as there is insufficient space to circulate. The cramped nature of the premises also increases anxiety/aggression.
  • The open access print studio is sited next to the main training room even though the sounds generated by the air compressor are very loud and the wall between is not insulated against sound. This renders the training sessions inaudible and thus inaccessible to people with hearing impairments on the days that the print studio is open.

Etc Etc Etc

5) Converted contemporary art museum (though this is much better than the rest)

  • There is insufficient signage for the stairs/escalator, so there is heavy pressure on the lifts. It’s also not possible to know which lift will arrive after calling them and so get in a queue for entry. Therefore people who cannot use the stairs/escalator can wait huge amounts of time before they can move between the floors, because every time a lift arrives, non-disabled people reach it and fill it first.
  • The accessible toilets are very small and often situated at the end of narrow corridors that include other toilet facilities. This makes them hard to enter and exit, particularly as there is no waiting/turning space in the corridors and the doors to the other toilets are constantly being used.
  • Most of the books and magazines in the bookshops cannot be seen, let alone reached, by wheelchair users and people of restricted growth.
  • Exhibition signage is too small for people with any degree of visual impairment to read, including the majority of the over-60s. It is also hard for wheelchair users to access as they frequently can’t get close up to the signage.
  • Podiums, particularly from touring exhibitions, are often too high to allow the objects displayed to be viewed by wheelchair users, people with restricted growth – and children!
  • Pictures may be hung too high to be viewed by wheelchair users, people with restricted growth – and children!
  • Ventilation grids in the floors create hazards for wheelchair castors, narrow gauge walking and guide sticks etc.

Etc


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Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90's ABNORMAL: How Britain became body dysphoric and the key to a cure is available now for just 3.09 for the Kindle or in a limited-edition hardback with full-colour art plates for 20 inc UK postage and packing. Book cover