Case study: New Zealand Police Museum

Rowan Carroll, the Director of the New Zealand Police Museum, standing outside the museum entrance.

An Inaccessible Museum

The NZ Police Museum’s noticed that their exhibitions were not accessible to their disabled visitors. Although members of the Blind Low Vision Community, Aphasia Community, and people in residential care, frequently visited the museum, they were given a superficial experience, so Director Rowan Carroll looked to improve their experience. This worked was aligned with a 2019 Cabinet paper, “Framework to accelerate progress towards accessibility in Aotearoa New Zealand,” which encouraged Government agencies – including the NZ Police – to take a more accessible approach to their operations. The Police Museum, therefore, wanted to set an example for the rest of New Zealand Police; however, staff had little experience with accessibility and looked for outside help.

In 2021, Rowan, reached out to the Museum and Heritage Practice programme at Victoria University of Wellington for a student to help them audit the collection. Masters student, Amy Boswell-Hore, a disabled person and accessibility advocate, was chosen for the role. During her placement, she was tasked with auditing the collection, writing a report, and writing a policy and standard operating procedures.

A space for all

Using a mixture of the Arts Access Aotearoa Accessibility Checklist, personal experience, and outside research, Amy created a two-part auditing system. Firstly, she used the Arts Access Aotearoa checklist to highlight general issues, like the lack of accessibility information and the built environment. In this phase, she identified that the bathrooms were a particular concern, even though they were labelled as accessible. For people in wheelchairs getting into the bathroom proved to be difficult because of an s-shaped corridor leading into the bathroom itself. This was probably added for the sake of privacy, but makes it difficult because there is not enough room for a wheelchair user to turn – especially as there were other things stored in that corridor. Similarly, the bathroom itself occupied a space of 1650mm x 1650mm, which is below the recommended 1900mm x 1650mm, making it difficult for a wheelchair user to turn in the space. The bathrooms did, however, include other accessible features such as L-shaped grab rails and all amenities being at an accessible height.

In part two, Amy audited each exhibition space and kaimahi area separately. In the exhibition area, the cabinet placement and information displays proved to be an issue as they didn’t accommodate the needs of everyone coming through the museum, like wheelchair users. The creation of the different exhibitions in the gallery spanned around ten years, with the labels and wall panels for each exhibition reflecting this. While newer labels and wall panels were more accessible, some labels were near impossible to read for disabled and non-disabled alike.
In addition, cases were frequently placed too close to one another due to the small size of the museum. All walkways should be a minimum of 1200mm wide, as this space allows a wheelchair user or person with a companion – be it another person or a service animal – to comfortably move through the space.

Goal setting

From the information in the audit and accompanying report, it was clear that the Police Museum needed to set definite goals. The museum runs on a strategic plan that is renewed every six months, therefore a policy had to be created that would fit in with this planning system. Amy wrote an Accessibility Policy and an action plan to improve accessibility over three years. The policy was paired with a set of Standard Operating Procedures, which helped kaimahi follow best practice. Currently kaimahi are in the process of implementing these goals by identifying ways they can make their spaces more accessible, such as removing furniture and writing audio descriptions.

Replicate this case study in your museum

If you would like to audit your own museum and develop an accessibility policy, the best place to start is Arts Access Aotearoa’s Accessibility Checklist [PDF; 154KB]. This document was specifically created to help arts organisations, such as museums, to take the first steps towards accessibility.

As well as working through these best-practise checklists, it is important to have input from disabled people when conducting an accessibility audit as they can point out the issues that non-disabled people will likely not find..

Helpful documents

2021 Police Museum Accessibility Report (3.37 MB)

NZ Police Accessibility Policy (52.77 KB)

Standard Operating Procedures (55.94 KB)