Story Museum Access Day: Inclusive Events Done Right

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I’m often a little skeptical of inclusive events. They are normally well meaning but they can easily miss the point, or they embody an attitude which is anything but inviting.

A few weeks ago an email bounced across my inbox which caught my interest. The Story Museum in Oxford are running an Access Day… and it looks extremely good.

The more I found out about the event, the more impressed I became. After a call with Kelly Codling-Bray, the event’s creator, I realised this might be one of the best conceived inclusive event I’ve come across and I just needed to write about it!

Let’s have a story. A story of inclusion done right and what we can learn from it.

The Story Museum

I have to admit, the Story Museum is new to me and I’d never encountered the concept before.

Kelly (in her role as Access & Participation Coordinator) described it as:

So [the] story museum is a very unique and small museum in the heart of Oxford. So we are right in the city center. And our vision at the Story Museum is to highlight the human need for stories and celebrate the many, many ways that people can benefit from this. And we’re talking about stories in all forms. So it’s not just books. It’s also film TV, narrative and games, audio books. anything like that we’re really excited about.

This is a remarkable vision. Story telling and narrative is such a powerful force in the world.

A key part of the neurodiversity movement is the concept of telling our stories in our own words.

Owning our own narrative and taking it away from medical gatekeepers is a key part of achieving lasting change. This is true for most civil rights movements, from LGBT to combating racism. The power to set the narrative is a foundation for change.

At a more personal level, story telling is a key part of my life. Whether it’s in talks and podcasts, or as part of my accessibility work with large brands & game studios.

For stories to be powerful they must be inclusive of the reader. So it’s important that the story museum is inclusive too.

Kelly described her role beautifully as:

I want to get as many people as possible, feeling welcomed and wanting to engage in stories. [to] make sure that they feel that confident when they come onto our site, that they’re able to engage in everything we have going on

I talk to a lot of inclusion leads and I was really impressed with Kelly. She understands the challenge and has the exact barriers focused lens I love to work with. Looking at the mismatch between people and environments, rather than looking only to legal compliance or medical categorisation.

Getting things right: Time & Space

The events approach to time and space quickly caught my attention.

Inclusive events & relaxed opening hours typically get pushed to the margins of the calendar. Not with The Story Museum, the access day is taking place at peak opening time on a Saturday.

An all day event during prime weekend opening hours is pretty magic. It removes a bunch of barriers around early mornings, late evenings or taking young people out of school. Giving the event prominence in the calendar also shows a commitment to being more inclusive.

Kelly explained that the event date (16th March) was intentional too.

I think the the date for it came about from Euans Guide. They used to have. I mean, we spoken to them. I don’t think they’re doing it this year sadly, but usually March 16th has been a day that they have asked national organizations to make accessible and really think about that access throughout their buildings. And so we thought it was really fitting to do it on that day and to line up.

This impressed me as it shows an awareness of the disability community and some of our emerging culture.

One concern with scheduling the event within busy opening hours is the potential for overcrowding.

Kelly explained the museums approach on our call:

So the way the the events being curated so we will have the galleries open which is just as part of our normal offer, but just with reduced capacity.

Reduced capacity is a good idea, combined with long visits it gives everyone time to experience the museum gently. Selling tickets through the day limits the flexibility a little, but hopefully it manages the flow for a better experience overall.

This impressed me as it shows awareness of how crowds can be huge barrier for many of us. This is the sort of change that makes a space accessible to me.

As well as getting the timing right. The Story Museum are changing how they use the space itself.

For this event, the museum is opening up all spaces to all ages.

Kelly explained the reasoning on our call. She started by explaining how opening up the space help structure a visit:

The reason we’re opening that up is one. It’s a really good breakout space if you’re coming for the day, and maybe you go. Oh, you know, we’ve seen half the galleries, but it’d be good just to go to another area, and just either sit down for a bit or just you know, run off some energy. It’s a great space for that

This is so on point it hurts.

When i visit places with my friends, we often setup in one spot, then we do little expeditions into other areas. That allows me to absorb new things gently, in small doses, while returning to a place I know in between. Good venues have a safe place for us to build our basecamp. Bad venues push us back to the car or worse, allow only a single entry.

Understanding how we use a space is a nice example of The Story Museums understanding our needs and supporting our ability to make a visit flow smoothly.

Kelly went on to explain the second reason:

And another reason is when I’ve been chatting to different people who’ve come visited. A few of them say about you know. my child is 7, and they’re all too old, but actually their their mental age is a lot younger, and whilst they physically are a bit bigger, and they would benefit from being in that space”

While the phrasing is a little uncomfortable (mental age is a complex concept) i couldn’t agree more with the reasoning.

If done safely, allowing folks to access the spaces which meet their needs is more effective than an arbitrary estimation based on ‘typical’ development.

Kelly summarised it nicely:

Why should it be an age limit and it and so that’s the reason I really wanted to open it up is to prove that it. Anyone can enjoy the space. And actually it it takes away that that barrier of oh, I’m not under 5. I can’t go in there.

This is such a great example of how ‘default’ assumptions can create barriers… and how challenging those assumptions can create opportunities. An emerging word for this is challenging “Neuronormative’ assumptions and decisions.

The way culture polices age, ability and preferences is often limiting and frustrating. Especially for folks who don’t follow an expected development path or who enjoy things ‘not meant for them’.

I say this as an adult who has a plushie side kick and defaults to comfy kids PJs whenever I can. An environment which allows us to express our preferences without assuming our capacity is pretty unusual. Even if an environment isn’t explicitly restricted, arriving wearing a comfy a hoodie and dinosaur PJs bottoms can get a weird reaction.

Perhaps ironically, flexibility on things like clothing and tools can save enough spoons that I’ll be speaking in a place where I’d normally be non-speaking. It sounds small, but aligning our sensory needs & preferences with an open space is an absolute game changer.

Once again, a brilliant insight into the sort of needless barriers a lot of people face when accessing museums and other public places. This issue overlaps so many different folks of all types of need, age and ability.

Getting it right: Accessible Gaming

The Story Museum had a broad remit to cover stories of all forms including interactive story telling within games.

With that in mind The Story Museum invited the accessible gaming charity Special Effects into the museum to demonstrate their eye tracking / gaze controlled version of Minecraft called EyeMine.

This made me smile heaps as I work in the game accessibility space and know Special Effects well! It’s wonderful to see thier involvement.

In my mind this is a great example of The Story Museum being forward looking and proactive. It also serves as a launching point for people to learn more about the tech & the organisations who can help.

These sort of demo days are important as they raise awareness of the technology and tools which are available. Using the technology at an event is often the first step to finding solutions to use at home. This sort of thing changes lives in ways it’s hard to describe.

Once again… I’m very impressed. The Story Museum are continuing to demonstrate awareness of issues within the disability and neurodivergent community. Places where we may become excluded as the technology of story telling evolves over time. The museum is then actively promoting the tools needed to keep us involved.

Games are a key part of storytelling, but they are often ignored by museums. They are still seen as having low value… it’s a big daft, as games may be the most engaging storytelling in someone’s life. Kelly described it well:

Society often takes a bit of time to catch up with tech. Right?

Getting it Right: Stories we tell.

Coming back to a theme from before; part of the power of stories comes from who is telling them. Who frames the narrative and shapes the tone.

The Story Museum are on top of this too. As part of the access day, the museum is screening short films form the Oska Bright Film Festival which focuses on the work of autistic people and people with a learning disability. The film’s are being screened on a loop in museums relaxed theatre setting.

I’m not a film person… but this sounds like a wonderful way to demonstrate that “nothing about us, without us” is being understood and acted on.

Final thoughts

Phew. This is a long article. I haven’t even mentioned the basic things like the reduced sounds and lights. The museum is going so far behind the basics there’s too much to cover.

I love when I meet an interesting organisation doing interesting things.

The event gets so many things right. To bring it all together:

By Placing the access day front and centre in the schedule, heaps of time based barriers are removed. It shows that we are valued.

By Rethinking the use of space, heaps of structural barriers are removed. Anyone who needs a basecamp can setup in a safe suitable space and build their adventure bit by bit. We can all access spaces we find comfortable and inviting. It shows that our needs are understood without judgement.

Finally, by including accessible gaming, and creating a space for our stories to be told, it shows The Story Museum are delivering on their remit to involve everyone and all types of story.

All of this, done for free, right in the centre of a major UK city… it’s remarkable.

I couldn’t make the Access day on the 16th of March, but i’m hoping it went well so I can go to one in the future.

As it stand right now, the day to day experience at The Story Museum probably isn’t accessible to me or many people like me.

Between the mobility, and sensory barriers in the environments I’d struggle to get very far before I ran out of energy. Without a safe place to stop and recharge, any visit would need to be brief and rushed. We need physical space for the buggy etc, but we also need metaphysical space in how our needs are considered.

It’s beyond exciting to see how the museum is changing too meet the needs we have. The museum is living its values and delivering on its promise. I can’t wait to see how this evolves in the future.


Spaced Out & Smiling is about exploring the fun side of Autism, and trying to understand what it means to be Autistically Happy.

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