Agradeço à Accessible Portugal pela entrevista. Encontra-se disponível em: http://www.apmagazine.net/2010/January/interview.htm
Master degree in Museology, thesis entitled "Accessibilties in Museums"
By João Durão da Silva
Sónia Santos has been developing a career related with accessibility in cultural places, in particular, in museums. A subject she considers as “a truly gratifying work”, both in a professional and in a personal level.
After a graduation in Modern Languages and Literature, Sónia Santos took a pos-graduation and a Master Degree in Museology, at Faculdade de Letras do Porto, with her thesis entitled “Accessibilities in Museums”. During this period, in 2005, Sónia had the opportunity to make an internship in Museu do Papel Moeda, owned by Fundação Dr. António Cupertino de Miranda, where she created a Manual of Accessibilities.
Today, she's still in the museum, working in the Educational Services Department, doing also several presentations for students and professionals of the field. Moreover, Sónia has its own blog (http://acessibilidadeemmuseus.blogspot.com - in Portuguese), where she approaches many subjects related with accessibility, a theme that she says that is part of her life since very soon. Let's know why…
How did you get involved with accessibility issues?
It happened very soon. I've a brother with cerebral palsy. Since my seven years old that I have been dealing closely with disability and I know how much it's difficult for people with special needs to achieve a “normal” life, having a job, accessing health care, accessing culture and leisure.
When I was in the second year of my pos-graduation in Museology, one proposed me to develop a Manual of Accessibilities for the Museu do Papel Moeda. I didn't have any doubt that it'll be a truly gratifying work, not only in an academic/professional level, but also in a more personal one. All these things are connected, so I ended to develop the thesis of my Master degree on this subject and, after that, working with people with special needs.
Personally, which are the major challenges that you find in this kind of work?
The great challenge is to create accessibilities in all the matters. Not only eliminating architectonical barriers, but also those ones related with contents and mostly with prejudice. People still have fear of everything that is different, everything that is not “normal”, and disability is just one of these cases. It's necessary to lose the fear of communication.
Lucky, there is already a concern in museums to arrange exhibitions for ALL. Even so, most of them think that accessibilities require huge costs, when comparing to the small percentage these visitors represent in annual statistics. This means that most of the times they ignore accessibilities or develop sporadic accessible projects. It's important to think in every citizen, but it has to be a constant concern if we want to achieve good results and even more confidence for this work keep going on.
In your opinion, which are the most important factors when we think to turn cultural places accessible?
There are several ones! Physical accessibility is fundamental and putting a ramp somewhere is not enough. We have to respect legislation and make efficient adaptations. Nowadays, we see unthinkable things like huge ramps, insurmountable doors and so many other alleged accessibilities that, in fact, they not only don't function as they should do, but also they turn themselves as disguised barriers.
At the same time, as I said before, it's important to eliminate fears and prejudices that many people still have from the different and promote communication… we must know how to communicate. Today, museums are changing, becoming increasingly distant from those elitists and closed ones that existed in the past, and accessibility is a vital issue in this process. Having accessible contents for all is fundamental. If we go to a museum and we come out from there without understand anything we saw or read, we won't certainly wish to repeat the experience.
Our society is more and more heterogeneous and I'm not referring only to disabled people. There are the elderly, tourists and many levels of alphabetization and culture. The challenge is attend all the people and for that we can't have a static and unchangeable communication, neither insurmountable physical/architectonical barriers.
There has been much discussion concerning the intervention in several cultural places, many of them considered national heritage, due to its age and architecture. How do you evaluate this problem?
It has to be a balance. It's true that many places can't be changed and we must respect that. We can't demand a total adaptation of some buildings, but we can search for solutions. I think multidisciplinary teams should be created, including people with special needs, and we have to put together all the efforts to find new solutions. They might not be the most desirable ones, but they should be minimally inclusive at least.
However, there are other buildings which support the necessary adaptations, without interfere with their integrity, and those ones must be adapted!
Do you consider that there is sensibility and desire from responsible authorities to face the problem?
I think this subject was a taboo for a very long time, but situations have been changing in the last years, in a slowly but progressively way. People are more receptive to this issue; now it's also necessary a huge will to address the problem and, for me, that will has to grow even more.
Back to your professional life, which are your next projects?
As much as you do, it's never enough… there is always more to do… there is always more to learn and that's the great challenge: do not stop! In this moment, the Museu do Papel Moeda (where I'm working) is already well accessible. There are ramps, elevator, adapted WC, Braille guides, amplified guides, tactical resources, software for reading and amplifying, software and hardware for support of people with neuromotor disabilities. Even the employees – from the receptionist to the technician of Educational Service – have formation [to work with deaf and visual impaired people], which was taken [respectively] in Associação de Surdos do Porto and in ACAPO-Porto.
Nevertheless, there is more to be done… there's always more! It's necessary to resume contacts, create new and attractive activities, disseminate information… well, it's necessary to open doors to all the audiences and make them feeling welcome and eager to return. Making links!
Just before we conclude this interview… Would you like to add something?
Yes… Museums are adopting competitive functions, broadening their horizons and skills. It's not enough to have some collections and preserve them. Visitors are acquiring a fundamental importance for the survival of cultural entities.
However, this search for visibility is also perverse because its features and its statistics are their visit card, when museums are trying to raise funds, sponsorships and patronages… When we focus on people with special needs, we conclude that guided visits can't present the same features than those with other groups. These visits are longer, require more dedication and can include a maximum of 10 participants. They can't compete, for example, with school visits with 30 students per session, but they equally worth it and should be stimulated and recognized by their value… Even if statistically they only represent an almost invisible target.
Thank you very much.