Last week the National Gallery of Ireland became the first cultural institution in Ireland to receive Autism Friendly status. We sat down with Caomhán Mac Con Iomaire and Brina Casey of the Gallery’s Access team to discuss this momentous occasion.
What motivated you to seek Autism Friendly status?
(Caomhán) Accreditation is about accessibility and making the gallery as accessible as possible. The visitor should have the most enjoyable and worthwhile experience in here possible. We want everyone to enjoy the collection and we’re delighted that Adam approached us initially. We then looked to see what we could do to make the gallery more accessible for the autistic community. Of course this is part of a wide access programme.
Have you noticed any specific barriers?
(Caomhán) We’re learning a lot about barriers experienced by autistic people. We then had a think about ways we were potentially failing our autistic visitors. We’re now providing sensory friendly workshops for children and will shortly be doing some for adults. The environmental report produced by AsIAm was very helpful in highlighting this. We’ve drawn up a list of commitments. Quiet spaces are important, not only to be present but also to be clearly signposted. An autistic person should be able to walk in and see on a map where they can go for a sensory break. There’s a space for them to stim as well. We are a public space so we space is at a premium so there’s exceptions to this, but if the space is occupied we’ll announce that beforehand.
What kind of work went into making the gallery accessible
(Brina) The Access committee is there to ensure access is a priority. We want to ensure we are an inclusive environment. So autism and sensory awareness is high on the agenda. The programming is one of the most important elements. We have a responsibility to translate and interpret the collection for the public, but if people need it interpreted differently then it’s our responsibility to do that to. What we want the public to experience the art and feel something because that’s why we love it and work here in the gallery!
How do you feel moving forward?
(Caomhán) I’m delighted today is happening and keep an eye on our website for future programming! We’re committed to what we’ve promised and I very much see today as the end of the beginning.