Understanding Disability in an Inclusive Museum: Systemic Contradictions and the Search for Consensus

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Ekaterina Dolgova
Nikita Bolshakov

Abstract

In this article, on the example of museums we consider the problem of constructing a single explanatory framework for understanding disability and inclusion, germane in the context of the multiplicity of interpretations of what an ideal accessible museum is. To construct such an explanatory model, this study analyzes the experience and judgments of museum professionals and blind visitors with regard to disability and inclusion. The modern museum is a source of authoritative opinions and collective experiences. It represents a platform where specialists and other categories of visitors engage in dialogue. One of such categories are blind and visually impaired people who have unique demands on museum infrastructure compared to other categories of visitors. The analysis was based on the materials of 19 in-depth semistructured interviews with blind and visually impaired visitors and 11 interviews with specialists for inclusive museums, as well as 2 formalized observations at inclusive events in museums.
As the results of the study show, unique demands of blind visitors can transform the role of the museum as an agent of sociocultural inclusion. Curators and accessibility specialists hold certain ideal visions about the assembly of context of disabilities within institutions. These ideas are largely determined by the logic of the concept of postmuseum as one of the key directions in the development of this sphere. They encounter the attitudes of blind and visually impaired people and collide with their agency and their own understanding of the optimal models for assembling disability both within the museum and outside its walls. The core of the semantic field of disability in a museum with an accessible environment is the understanding that blind visitors today do not want to feel their “exclusion” and want to move along their own “path” in museum space shared by all visitors. The museum must take into account the unique needs of blind and visually impaired visitors, which leads experts to talk about the corresponding occurrence of processes opposite to inclusion and reinforces the discussion about the conceptual accessibility of museums for blind visitors.


Article in Russian

Keywords

Museum, Diversity, Accessibility, Inclusion, Disability, Models of Understanding Disability, Blind Visitors, Sociocultural Adaptation


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