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Thanet Cultural sites learn British Sign Language to improve their offer to visitors

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What was the Project aim(s)?

In 2014/15 a group of colleagues from heritage, leisure and cultural organisations in East Kent attended British Sign Language Level 1 training. The group disseminated their experience and knowledge to increase awareness at their organisations. From a group of nine, four went on to pursue BSL to Level 2 through a follow-up grant in 2015/16. 

Through gaining the BSL Level 2 qualification, the aim was for BSL trained staff to share their experience and knowledge with the wider team and ultimately to improve the visitor experience in cultural and leisure institutions across Kent.

The group aims to build on relationships with professionals from John Townsend Trust, who can provide support and guidance to improve accessibility. 

What was the impact of the project?

Having a BSL Level 2 trained member of staff enables visitors to engage with the collection in ways that they couldn’t have before – learning more than what is on the interpretation.

Level 1 has helped us with basic conversation in British Sign Language which includes essentials such as welcoming people into the museum and directing them to facilities. Gaining a Level 2 qualification will continue to help us with more complex conversation on specialist subjects.

So far, in Level 2, we have just completed the first module, which develops our receptive skills. We have been watching videos with BSL users telling stories on different themes, which we are then tested on. We have also been expanding our BSL vocabulary. As the first module focuses on receptive skills, we haven’t yet got to the stage where we can develop our conversational skills to a higher level. As a result, we are yet to explore how to use BSL when describing our collections. Our first ‘Receptive Skills’ exam took place in December 2015, and we are awaiting the results.  

As a result of the relationship developed in Level 1 training, Jon Palmer, BSL tutor, has visited Betteshanger Country Park to give advice in creating a welcoming and accessible environment. In February, the Park’s parking system is being replaced with a more user friendly system, which is also suitable for disabled users. This is partly due to discussion with Jon Palmer, on his visit, as the current system was inaccessible for D/deaf visitors due to the intercom. As a result of this visit, the Museum and Heritage Manager has met with StageText, this organisation offers services such as captioning for recordings. An upcoming filming project undertaken for the Kent Mining Museum will ensure all material produced is suitable for captioning. These films are currently being edited, for March 2016 delivery. The Museum and Heritage Manager and Activity Planning consultants are in discussion about the possibility of testing interpretation with students at the Royal School for Deaf Children, Margate. The Kent Mining Museum hopes to set up an Access Advisor group, as part of the HLF Activity Plan, to discuss and test interpretation for a variety of users. The closure of the Royal School for Deaf Children means that these students may not be directly involved in this process as intended. However I will be discussing with Jon, as he may be able to recommend a group facilitator and/or young people who can still be involved. 

In November 2015, the Powell-Cotton Museum held a free Deaf Awareness course for 11 members of staff. This is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, details of the course can be found here. Similar training is being arranged to Betteshanger in the future. 

What went well and what didn’t go well?

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What are your plans for the future?

Although Turner Contemporary has recently been recognized by The John Townsend Trust as a 'promoter of Equality and Diversity through its work', we identified the need for a better engagement with the deaf community and with the Royal School for Deaf Children Margate in particular. Further training will enable the gallery to fully support hearing impaired guests during their visit or when attending artists workshops. What is more, Turner Contemporary aims to re-introduce signed talks led by deaf artists.
Deaf audiences will be a target audience for the Kent Mining Museum Activity Plan, for a 2016 HLF delivery phase grant application. This is still the case, and the Kent Mining Museum Activity Plan is being finalised for a March submission to HLF.

Through this project, we hope to create a network of accessible attractions in East Kent, to further improve the cultural offer for BSL users. We will also build partnerships with local community groups and organisations. For example, the Royal School for Deaf Children and Mencap already visit Powell-Cotton Museum for booked workshops 2-3 times a year. Hopefully this will increase with the better service provision that our training will enable. A local SEN school (The Forelands School) have recently started a Schools Membership at the Powell-Cotton Museum, some of the students at this school are BSL users. Having a member of staff at reception (Abby) who can communicate effectively with the visitors is an advantage. In addition, Turner Contemporary aims to work with a group called Creative Adults who are based at the Royal School for Deaf Children Margate on a project with Tate Archives and Access based on T.S.Eliot's poem, The Wasteland. This is a research project which will take place over two years and the group will be invited to help interpret the archive which will lead to an exhibition programmed to be shown at Turner Contemporary in 2018.” 


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