Disability Co-operative Network for Musuems

It has been 18 months since the Digability project finished. Whilst we are not running the project anymore it is good to see that others are continuing to make sure that people with disabilities  continue to have access to heritage.  We have recently come across the work of the Disability Co-operative Network. Their webpages highlight all the fantastic initiatives that are happening. The group is formed of museum professionals in the London and West Midlands region who  “are working with academics, groups, specialists, curators and managers to share knowledge to break down barriers for disability in the cultural sector.”

Check out their website at http://www.musedcn.org.uk .

There is also a link to the HLF funded Inclusive Heritage Conference that took place in October 2015.  “It challenged delegates to address the under-representation of disabled people in shaping, visiting and working within heritage.”

The key message from the conference was  ‘everyone has a right to their own heritage’ something that the Disability project was keen to foster.

Links with Wessex Archaeology

On another note the WEA on the 8th February 2016  signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Wessex Archaeology. Have a look at the publicity from the day at http://wea.org.uk/news/New-partnership-with-Wessex-Archaeology.aspx

Chris Brayne says: “The WEA and Wessex Archaeology share a belief that knowledge has the power to change lives and that the right to access education goes beyond traditional education…We see this partnership as a means to magnify the impact of the activities of both organisations and to reach new audiences in new ways.”

Ruth Spellman says: “The partnership with Wessex Archaeology is very valuable to our students. It encourages intellectual curiosity and lifelong opportunities to learn which we are passionate about in the WEA. I look forward to seeing the impact on individuals and their communities.”


HLF include project in their round up of projects with positive outcomes for Mental Health.

Liz Ellis, the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Communities and Diversity Policy Advisor has been looking at some of the projects the HLF have supported that promote mental health and wellbeing. One of the four case studies she chose was ‘Digability’.  She was particularly impressed with the positive feedback from our students and the evaluation of the project in our final report.

Have a look at Liz’s Blog and the other projects that have been happening around the country that are supported by the HLF.

Digability Film

Here is a film about the WEA Inclusive Archaeology Education Project.  It demonstrates what the project meant to staff, students and partners and how successful it was it achieving its inclusive aims. The film has been subtitled by one of the project’s deaf students and WEA volunteer support worker,  Gordon McGowan.

Note: To access the subtitles you may need to click on the white ‘envelope’ style button next to the cog.

Final project report

Here is the final report of the Digability Project. It outlines the ideas behind the project, how we set it up, how it worked and reflects on what improvements could have been made.


A huge thank you to everyone who took part in the project especially to all our students.


Click on image to download report.

Click on image to download report.


Digability at TAG 2014

We recently presented at paper at the Theoretical Archaeology Conference in Manchester just before Christmas about the use of social purpose in archaeology and in particular how it had been effective in the Digability project. It was a fascinating session in which people’s view of Social Purpose were as varied as the interpretation of Intrumentalisation. You can follow some of the feedback that occured on twitter but below I have given an overview of the discussions.

Sarah May opened the conference with a really interesting oversight of archaeology in the past. From the interests of the antiquarians and field clubs to the agendas of imperialists and social engineering attempts of politics today. She argued there have been very few, if any examples in the past where archaeologists are not influenced by where the funding com from and “lets face it archaeology is expensive”. It was a recurring theme throughout the day, can we really claim to do archaeology in isolation? Today much archaeology funding relies on ticking boxes, as one speaker  said – community – tick, disadvantaged societies – tick, local – tick. There was lots of debate about doing archaeology to do people or communities good. Rachel Kiddy very much highlighted, and I would concur, that this is a patronising attitude.  I hope none of our Digability students have felt patronised but have felt we embarked on a learning journey together in which we all benefited.  Who are we to say that it will be beneficial to everyone, what are we claiming to do? Caroline Pudney pointed out it very easy to jump on bandwagons and our messages to be highjacked. Throughout Digability, in someways we set out to use archaeology as a tool to education but at no point did any student join because it would ‘do them good’, at least I hope not. Their personal learning objectives were to do something new and find out about the past, any benefits to health and wellbeing were a bonus and usually unexpected.

It was interesting to note that throughout the day there was a recurring realisation that many professional archaeologists don’t have the skills to fulfil the demands placed on them by statuary regulation to engage the public. Thankfully a few proponents such as Jacqui Meulville, as well as Caroline Pudney and Guillermo Reher recognised that we should work in partnership with other bodies. In our recent report on Digability (available via the website soon) we stress as educationalists and archaeologists we could not have done the project without the help of care partners in the same way we could not deliver the archeology to professional standards without the help of our colleagues.

Some of the powerful projects we heard about from Barabara Brayshay engaged with action research – it is interesting to see how as educational theories are taken up they are adopted across disciplines. After all action research is something that we ourselves undertook with EFT funding to look at the impact of using cultural venues as an educational resource. Archaeology has long borrowed theories across disciplines. It is the diverse nature of archaeology that engages the sciences, social sciences and arts, that gets the public to engage. Initiatives in London looked at mapping projects, student led questions answered by their own research were used in the best way to improve their environment through debate and evidence. Mike Nevell used his work in Manchester to show how engaging with local societies had enhanced the archaeologists knowledge and understanding of a site as did the work of Melainie Giles about Whitworth Park and examples of several local community groups Dorset from Hayley Roberts.

Why as archeologists do we fear debate from outside the profession? Guillermo Reher stated archaeologists often have ultra egos and get their knickers in a twist. We need to have more confidence in what we do and recognise the agendas that drive our work and interpretations. We debated what is the USP of archaeology? Is it purely excavation, the tangible hands on experience of the past – what if its not tangible, who has the right to decide who can interpret what we find. ‘Treasure’ is always exciting but as a profession we can in fact educate through debate that the real excitement is ‘discovery’ and the many forms that can take be it individual or collective, academic or personal.

There was a lively debate sparked by the Kate Geary from Chartered Insitute for Archaeologists (CIfA) about maintaining standards. The debate about professional vs community. Should good quality high standard community archaeology be stopped? Should badly done professional archaeology be challenged? Why is archaeology split into academic, commercial, community and even social purpose archaeology? Surely it is all archaeology -it’s about recognising the agendas behind the published results, its about respect and debate. It was also advocated that we all start our archaeological learning somewhere and that education and sharing of experiences is how we work towards a common goal.

I think the work we have done with Digability shows the amazing benefits working together. We, throughout the project ,drew on everyone’s strengths, the care workers who supported us helped us to understand the needs of the students, the professional archaeologists and incredibly knowledgable local history groups gave the students amazing opportunities to discover the past of their local area in a responsible way. The students opened up our minds to new possible interpretations and observations asking challenging questions and were willing to enter discussions about the sites, artefacts and theories we looked at. I don’t think the profession needs to feel threatened by opening its doors to wider communities, I think it should embrace the possibilities and opportunities it offers.

Improving the experience of the Deaf community and those with Hearing Loss at Museums and Heritage Sites

Digability may have come to an end but we are still working hard to spread the word about inclusivity and accessibility in archaeology and heritage. Funded by the Council for British Archaeology we were able today to deliver a session on improving the experience of the Deaf and Hard of hearing when visiting Musuems and heritage sites. Led by a deaf tutor, Steve Gibson, and supported by one of the Deaf Digability students, David Leech,( you can read about David’s experiences if the project on the student experience page) the 16 attendees found out the difference between Deaf and deaf, the hard of hearing and deafened. We then learnt about how to communicate with Deaf, deaf and hard of hearing visitors including good practice for lip reading, writing things down and we even learnt a few signs. We also learnt about how to work with a BSL interpreter.

We talked about good practice already happening such as employing Deaf volunteers through Workwise and BSL tours happening at the attendees places of work and we talked about other musuems and galleries such as Tate Britain, the British Museum and the  Imperial War Museum where BSL interpretation is available about some of the objects via tablets or displays. We also discussed Health and Safety issues such as alerting people to fire alarms and and associated disability, Ushers syndrome where deafness is accompanied with  deteriorating eyesight.

The feedback to the course was fantastic with attendees reporting the they had been inspired to do more and to try and learn some BSL.

A huge thank you to all those who attended and for all your contributions to the session and thank you to the CBA for sponsoring this event.


Although teaching has finished on the project we are now in the final stages of evaluating and reporting on what we have achieved.  This week a group of students, tutors, volunteers and partners got together to discuss what they personally had gained from the project and what had been the perceived benefits to the students. The students took part in making a short film about their experiences which will include some BSL interpretation and subtitles to reflect our Deaf students that took part. It was great to meet up with everyone again and to reflect on the longer term impact of the project.


The final report will be available shortly.