Policy and Planning

The building blocks to any accessibility planning starts at the policy level. Learn more about how you can integrate best practise into your foundational documents.

While there are examples of museums working on greater inclusivity of the Deaf and disabled communities, the vast majority of museums in Aotearoa New Zealand are not fully accessible to all visitors. Disabled people often cannot access exhibitions, online content, or amenities like their non-disabled peers because there are barriers that stop them. These barriers range from stairs and lack of seating to inaccessible websites and labels that are difficult to read.

“Visiting museums has presented numerous challenges for me. From the acoustic design with wide-open spaces which has sounds bouncing off the walls, to the limited knowledge of staff regarding people who are Deaf or hard of hearing and what we might need to feel supported.”
– Natasha Gallardo, Chief Executive of the National Foundation for Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Becoming more accessible is not only beneficial for the disabled communities but is also beneficial for museums. By incorporating accessible practices into museum practice and viewing disabled people as stakeholders, museums will open their whare to a wider audience.

The Education Team from Canterbury Museum has developed a series of Life Long Learning programmes that brought new communities into the museum. Starting in 2017, Jerry Champion and Marisa Swanink began working with Dementia Canterbury to create a programme that enabled people with dementia to enjoy exhibitions without becoming overstimulated. Programmes include an introduction in the gallery and are followed by an interactive workshop in the education space. Since the programme began, it has been modified several times to give the visitors the best experience possible.

Following the success of the dementia programme, the education team worked with Blind Low Vision New Zealand to develop a program for their members. This programme was similar to the first, with an introduction in the gallery and interactive workshop in the education space, but focused on audio description and touching items related to the exhibition.

Each year, these programmes welcome around 130 people with dementia and 40 people who are blind or have low vision to the museum; however, Marisa notes that this is not the most valuable outcome of the programmes. She focuses on the relationships that staff have been able to develop with the visitors, their families, and support people. The programmes also give people opportunities that past museum procedures would not.

Writing an Accessibility Policy

An Accessibility Policy is a document that outlines what an organisation is going to do to become accessible to the Deaf and Disabled Community and the time frame they intend to do this in. A policy also holds the organisation accountable to the visitors, kaimahi, and volunteers they are aiming to welcome into their museum or connect with them online.

When preparing to write a policy, there are many areas of the museum to consider; such as exhibitions, amenities, offices, storage rooms, and employment practices. Both back-of-house and front-of-house need to be given equal attention. Remember, it will be difficult to become completely accessible in one policy cycle. Instead of aiming for complete accessibility in the scope of the first policy, museum staff should talk with local disability communities and discuss what accessibility features should be prioritised.

To help you get started, several organisations have provided useful guides for the sector:

Strategic Planning

While an Accessibility Policy is an important document for every museum, the planning and resources around a policy, often referred to as an action or strategic plan, are even more important as they implement the promises made in the policy. They outline how you will achieve the goals in the policy, as well as who will do the mahi, how it will be done, the cost, and how success will be assessed.

When planning a museum’s future, kaimahi and volunteers should address accessibility alongside their other inclusivity goals.

For more information on developing a strategic plan, read National Services Te Paerangi’s He Rauemi Resource Guide: Developing a strategic plan [PDF; 949KB].

Operational Documents

Operational Documents, such as Standard Operating Procedures and Process Documents, are the key to implementing accessibility as will clarify responsibilities, provide outcomes and timelines, and give staff and volunteers a set of instructions and expectations to work with.

In 2021, the New Zealand Police Museum noted that their disabled visitors were getting a limited experience of their exhibitions because they were not accessible. To become more accessible, staff invited disabled Masters of Museum and Heritage Practice student, Amy Boswell-Hore, to help them create an Accessibility Policy and a set of Standard Operation Procedures.

In the Standard Operating Procedures, Amy listed the minimum requirements for each part of an exhibition’s design. When planning new exhibitions in the future, kaimahi can use these SOPs to guarantee that their exhibitions are more accessible to both disabled and non-disabled audiences.

To learn more about their work, read Case Study: The New Zealand Police Museum’s Road to Accessibility through Policy and Planning

For more information on minimum design requirements, read these guides:


Make sure that all staff, both front and back-of-house, understand what disabilities are and are comfortable talking about them. As a starter, your organisation must upskill all staff in this area by undertaking disability responsiveness training, which is similar to cultural competency training.

To understand what is required for this kind of training, read Office for Disability Issues Te Tarī Mō Ngā Take Hauātanga’s page on disability responsiveness training. It is crucial for training to be led by a disabled person.

There are other types of staff and volunteer training that can help improve accessibility.

  • Audio Description, the art of describing objects or artworks to people who are blind or have low vision.

  • Accessible Design, designing products and spaces so that they can be used by as many people as possible, both disabled and non-disabled.

  • Social Stories, a document that explains the process of doing something to a person with autism. These can be useful to other neurodivergent people as well.

  • Learning basic NZSL that is relevant to their role.

For funding assistance, look at the Expert Knowledge Exchange or National Services Te Paerangi’s Professional Development Grant.
For further information on training staff and volunteers, read our resources on Staff and volunteer management.

Emergency Planning

All kaimahi need to be prepared to help disabled people in case of an emergency whether that be a natural or man-made disaster. For instance, a wheelchair user may not be able to walk downstairs in an evacuation. If a museum has flights of stairs, installing an Evac+Chair and training all staff and volunteers is necessary. For more information on planning for an emergency, read Te Papa’s resources on Disaster planning and recovery.

Security Planning

Disabled people may have different security needs and kaimahi should be prepared for this. For instance, a blind person or someone who cannot read English cannot fill out a written or online form and will have to say the details out loud. For their privacy, staff or volunteers could ask them if they would like to complete a form in a more private place. Security guards and front-of-house kaimahi (staff) should also be taught how to respond to the different disabilities they may come across.

COVID-19 Planning

The recent COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted the way everyone enters and moves around buildings. Therefore, museums need to be prepared to make this process easy for disabled visitors as well as non-disabled ones. Using a disability lens when developing and implementing changes will provide the best system for everyone. For example: As with other standard QR signage and resources, place QR codes and sanitiser bottles at a height where they can be accessed by wheelchair users and little people.

As a standard approach, staff should be aware that when personal details are required from someone who is unable to read English, they need to be discreet when asking for their information to be shared aloud. They may offer to complete the form in a less public place.

Consider the specific implications of this event on the Deaf and disabled community, for example, face-covering exemptions, and how to reach out to communities who may not be able to visit in person. For more information on the implications COVID-19 has on the disabled community, please read Office for Disability Issues’s page on COVID-19 information for disabled people.