03 December 2021

The theme of International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2021 (IDPD) is leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-Covid-19 world.

These ideas and values were on show at the Museum of London on Tuesday 30 November, as the University of East London’s RIX Centre took over the Talking Point gallery for a celebration event to recognise the work of their purpleSTARS.

The purpleSTARS are a group of people with and without learning difficulties based at the RIX Centre who work together to make museums more inclusive.

The celebration event was an opportunity for the purpleSTARS to share their thoughts, feelings and inspirations behind the 'London is the Place for Me' exhibition, which explores the lives of Londoners past and present.

Professor Andy Minnion, founder and director of the RIX Centre, said, "I want to thank the Museum of London for giving us this opportunity. We've been campaigning for a long time with museums to look at the ways they can make their displays more accessible for people with learning disabilities.

"It has been a really positive experience for our work to be taken so seriously and to have the opportunity to work with the Museum’s expert team to achieve some amazing things with this installation."

The exhibition features a variety of interactive displays including immersive audio experiences that combine sound and smell, personal video accounts and artefacts that visitors can touch and play with.

One of the purpleSTARS, Samantha Walker, said, "purpleSTARS is about equality. Everyone gets a say on everything - it's about balance. The project has been really fun and we should make museums fun. Allow people to learn, get up close and touch everything!"

Put together over a challenging 18 months during a global pandemic, the exhibition explores 80 years of Museum of London archive, lockdown life in the capital, and other recent events in society like the tragic murder of George Floyd.

The latter had a lasting impact on purpleSTAR and black history researcher Paul Christian, who created a video for the exhibition talking about taking part in the Black Lives Matter campaign from the perspective of someone with a learning disability.

He said, "We feel that disabled people should have the chance to understand and talk about the news just like everyone else. People often assume that we don’t have the mental capacity to engage and understand stories of discrimination and other difficult topics, including campaigns like Black Lives Matter."

They think it doesn't matter to us or it's too difficult or painful for us - that we need protection from this. But the way I see it information is also power. People with learning difficulties have the same right to hear news and, if they want to, join in with speaking up against things they don’t agree with."

Following the success of the London is the Place for Me exhibition, the Museum of London is looking to extend its run into 2022. The RIX Centre are also talking to other major museums across the capital to explore opportunities to make more inclusive experiences for visitors with learning difficulties and disabilities.

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