Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Path to Accessibility: The current state of disability access in Aotearoa New Zealand museums

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Version 1 2021-11-15, 22:48
posted on 2021-11-15, 22:48 authored by King-Wall, Riah

The New Museology posits museums and galleries as institutions entwined with issues of social justice and political responsibility. The relationship between museums and their communities is the founding aspect of this theoretical and practical framework. ‘Path to Accessibility’ explores the ways museums and galleries around Aotearoa New Zealand are engaging with communities of people with disabilities, consulting both with representatives from the disability sector and cultural organisations from around the country. This dissertation addresses a current gap in the literature available on how New Zealand museums are adapting to the needs of these audiences; a shift that is necessary given one in four New Zealanders identifies as having lived experience of disability. It also forges a valuable contribution to the field of museum studies by drawing on theory such as audience development and visitor research, and utilising emancipatory research frameworks from disability studies, as well as conducting original research on an under-examined topic.  The research comprised a multi-method approach to ensure credibility. Focus group and interview stages collected the experiences and viewpoints of existing museum visitors with disabilities. This provided a foundation on which to create a nationwide survey of 41 museums and galleries. The survey explored multiple aspects of disability access, including physical ingress, inclusive exhibition design, tailored public programming, digital accessibility, and levels of disability representation in staff and management positions.  The findings of this research project reveal that museums and galleries in Aotearoa New Zealand are for the most part considering disability access in some way. However, actioning related initiatives is often limited to achieving minimum legislative requirements rather than approaching it comprehensively as part of wider audience development strategies. The analysis of data gathered puts forward a number of suggestions around improving practice in New Zealand museums, central to which is establishing relationships with communities of people with disabilities and their advocacy groups to ensure long-term sustainability. These recommendations have global applicability for museum practice as comparative overseas studies demonstrate strong similarities to the New Zealand context.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Museum and Heritage Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Museum and Heritage Studies

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

Museum and Heritage Studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Davidson, Lee