NDACA, the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive, is a project delivered by Shape and funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. Sarah Dormer, NDACA’s Learning Engagement Officer, talks us through how the project will incorporate access when it finally ‘goes live’, and has a request for accessible furniture suggestions from readers…

Over the last few months I’ve been planning the creation of the NDACA Wing at Buckinghamshire New University, which will be the primary study and research location for NDACA’s physical materials and digital resources. We believe that access is not a luxury, it is a right, and therefore should not be treated as an afterthought, so we’ve put together the following guidelines for our team to stick to during the preparation phase for the NDACA Wing, which will be going live in April 2018:

  1. Consider access as an essential part of the Wing’s design
  2. Create a space where all users can engage with the archive
  3. Make it possible for all users to learn and work independently
  4. Be an innovative and pioneering form of access in a study environment
  5. Be the best example of access that other study environments can look toward
  6. Increase awareness of the facilities and tools that are necessary to ensure access within study environments 

Part of my preparation has involved researching existing archive centres to find out the level of access already in place within these environments; perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s generally very poor, and there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement. This has made us realise how important it is for us to set an example, through our build and design of the NDACA Wing, to show other research and study environments the kind of accessible features that should be provided as standard.

Very often during my visits to established research centres, my question of ‘What access tools are in place to assist disabled people in engaging with your archive?’ was met by confused looks and sometimes the answer of, ‘Well, the building is wheelchair accessible…’. With so much assistive technology now readily available and often inexpensive, it seems there should be no excuse for research centres not to provide and be aware of these. One organisation even told me that, ‘in the past we had text-to-speech software installed on our computers’, but that since updating their system, they had neglected to re-install this software, despite noting that it was frequently made use of by their visitors in the past.

NDACA is in the process of researching the best software and technology we can provide on the computers and tablets we install within the Wing in order to enable all users to independently study and research our online archive and digital resources. Again, a common response I found when talking to staff at research centres was that they ‘can assist on a one-to-one basis if people have specific requirements’, but this approach fails to consider people’s desire to work independently.

Availability and effectiveness of assistive technology has grown massively over the last decade, but another important thing for us to bear in mind when designing the NDACA Wing is the furniture we will provide. We want to make sure that the tables, chairs, and more will be accessible – that’s where this blog turns into a request to our readers...!

We would love to hear disabled people’s ideas and suggestions for what type of furniture you would like there to be when you visit a research or study centre, particularly from an access angle. All ideas are welcome and we’ll use your feedback to work with a designer to produce accessible tables, seating, shelving, and more.

If you have any suggestions, please get in touch with me directly by the end of 2016, either by emailing [email protected] or calling 020 7424 7354, or even just commenting directly below this blog. I look forward to hearing from you!

Banner Image: From the NDACA archive - Ian Stanton performs at an unidentified location, date unknown