Disability Equality Scheme

Disability Equality Scheme (revised March 2014)

Sir John Soane’s Museum

The architect Sir John Soane’s house at No. 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields has been a public museum since the early 19th century.

In 1833 Soane negotiated an Act of Parliament to preserve the house and collection for the benefit of ‘amateurs and students’ in architecture, painting and sculpture. When Soane died in 1837 the Act came into force, creating a board of Trustees responsible for the Museum and for following Soane’s aims and objectives (see below). Their most important task was to keep the Museum ‘as nearly as circumstances will admit’ as Soane left it when he died and to allow free access for students and the public to ‘consult, inspect and benefit’ from the collections.

The Aims and Objectives of the Museum

The aims of the Trustees today embody Soane’s general aims as defined in the 1833 Act and in the 1969 Order which superseded it.

The principal aim of the Trustees is to maintain the integrity of Soane’s vision for the Museum while extending this, where appropriate, so that the Museum can play an increasing role in the education and recreational life of the country.

The Trustees’ main objectives are as follows:

1. To maintain and improve the conservation and maintenance of our Grade I listed buildings and works of art so that they will be accessible to present and future generations.  Soane’s 1833 Act stipulated that his house and museum (No. 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields) should be kept ‘as nearly as circumstances will admit’ as it was in 1837. The Trustees’ strategy must be to maintain the historic fabric of the three Soane houses in our care, Nos 12, 13 and 14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and to restore objects and interiors to their Soane positions and appearance where this is possible.

2. To allow the public free access to the Museum and to introduce first-time visitors to the architecture, works of art and collections of the Museum and work to make these comprehensible and accessible.

3. To inspire creativity and learning by means of an imaginative programme of exhibitions, events and activities (including those on contemporary architecture, art and design), so that the Soane remains a ‘living’ museum.

4. To provide opportunities for education and life-long learning in architecture, history and the history of art in their broadest sense following Soane’s intention to develop his House and Museum as ‘an academy for the Study of Architecture’.

5. To enable the public to acquire a deeper knowledge of the Museum’s collections of architectural drawings, books, models and works of art by means of exhibitions, catalogues and publications and through an increased use of information technology.

6. To manage the Museum’s financial and administrative affairs effectively.

The Equalities Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 replaced the existing anti-discrimination laws with a single Act. It includes a new public sector Equality Duty, replacing the separate public sector equality duties relating to race, disability and sex, and covering age, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, religion or belief and pregnancy/maternity more fully. The Equality Duty consists of a general duty, set out in the Act itself, and specific duties imposed through regulations. The general duty under the new Act states that we need to give due regard to our obligation to do the following:

Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

Advance equality of opportunity between different groups.

Foster good relations between different groups.

Disability Equality

The Equality Act 2010 obliges all public bodies to promote disability equality.

Public authorities must:
(i)   Promote equality of opportunity between disabled persons and other persons.
(ii)  Eliminate discrimination that is unlawful under the Act.
(iii) Eliminate harassment of disabled persons that is related to their disabilities.
(iv) Promote positive attitudes towards disabled persons.
(v)  Encourage participation by disabled persons in public life.
(vi) Take steps to take account of disabled person’s disabilities, even where that involves treating disabled persons more favourably than other persons.  If a public authority does not comply with the general duty, its actions, or failure to act, can be challenged by means of a claim to the High Court for judicial review. A claim for judicial review could be made by a person or group of people with an interest in the matter, or by the Disability Rights Commission.  In addition to the general duty a public body such as the Museum must, as a special duty, produce a Disability Equality Scheme (DES) to set out a framework to assist in meeting the general duty.

The Museum must therefore:

1. Publish a DES with a DES Action Plan; the DES and DES Action Plan are, and will continue to be, published on the Museum’s website.

2. Involve disabled people in producing the DES and Action Plan.  The Museum has involved disabled people through its consultations as part of preparing the Disability Action Plan (see below); through review by a disabled Trustee and by forming the Publicity and Access Consultative Team (PACT).   PACT is operated jointly with the Hunterian Museum, also in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, but is chaired by an independent external facilitator who has a disability. PACT is made up of volunteer panel members, from a variety of backgrounds and with a range of disabilities, and staff representatives from both museums. The panel acts as a consultation group for both museums on matters relating to disability and accessibility.

3. Demonstrate that it has taken the actions set out in the DES and achieved appropriate outcomes. The Museum gathers information from visitors about disability (via its Annual Survey) and reviews comments in its Visitors Books relating to disability. The Museum is recording any actions taken in relation to access during the Opening up the Soane project (OUTS) through management records.

4. Report on progress and review and revise the DES as appropriate.

Reporting will be done through the Museum’s Annual Report and the Museum will review and revise the DES and Action Plan at least once every three years.

Specific goals will be assessed in line with the recommendations of the Disabled Access Audit 2006 and subsequent studies and consultations, and a review of visitor comments will be carried out.

The definition of disability is that used in the Equality Act 2010, and applies to a wide range of disabilities (from people with Alzheimer’s and arthritis, to those with learning disabilities, diabetes, cancer, asthma, etc).

The Soane Disability Equality Scheme (DES) and DES Action Plan

It is essential that the Museum considers the impact of its decisions on the full range of disabled people.

The purpose of the Soane Disability Equality Scheme and the related Disability Action Plan (see below), is to help Sir John Soane’s Museum achieve equality in employment, service provision, access to premises and education. The Scheme sets out our overall objectives for addressing disability inequalities, and our plans to deliver improvements to access and services. It will help us achieve a number of goals, which are as follows.

(i) Focus upon and meet our duties under the Equalities Act 2010, setting out our plans to improve disability access for disabled people to employment and services.
(ii) Make sure that we take the needs and views of disabled people into account when we design or deliver services, make access improvements, or develop policies.
(iii) Continuously measure, monitor and improve ways in which we deliver services to disabled people.
(iv) Build a positive and disability-confident culture, with a common understanding and approach through which we can integrate disability issues into everyday work.
(v) Find out what is successful when developing provision for disability equality and create ways for sharing this knowledge with our partners.

This document aims to show how, through changing attitudes, infrastructure and resources and by the development of partnerships and increased expertise, the Museum can be proactive in recognising and removing the barriers which disabled people face in accessing the Museum and its collections.

The Museum’s strategy is threefold;
(i) Access: To offer the widest and most appropriate forms of access to the Museum and its collections, its expertise, facilities and services, whilst respecting its historic fabric and context. In doing so, we will actively work to overcome physical, sensory, intellectual, cultural, attitudinal, and financial barriers which may prevent this.
(ii) Inclusion: To work in partnership with others to help tackle social inequality, discrimination and disadvantage; engaging and empowering communities, improving the quality of people’s lives, contributing to social cohesion, and acting as a catalyst for cultural and social change.
(iii) Diversity: To embrace and reflect the diversity in society, harnessing the potential of all stakeholders (staff, volunteers, existing and potential audiences, key partners) in the development of a truly inclusive Museum which inspires, promotes learning, creativity and participation.

DES Action Plan

The Plan is divided into two sections.

DES Plan Section 1: Opening up the Soane

The Opening up the Soane project (OUTS) is a phased programme of refurbishment and restoration works that seeks to enable the Museum to make the best use of the three buildings that now comprise it. As well as restoring yet more of Soane’s extraordinary house-museum, one of the main objectives of OUTS is to improve visitor facilities and welcome, and in particular to provide enhanced disabled access to the Museum.

To this end a complete Disability Access Audit, covering all three buildings, was carried out in 2006 to determine how improved disabled access could be achieved without damage to the historical fabric and special atmosphere of the buildings. A copy of the final report by David Bonnett Associates is an appendix to this document.  This work was generously funded by the Fidelity Foundation UK.  As a result, in February 2008, the Museum produced a Disability Action Plan (AP) drafted by Cassie Hershel-Shorland working with David Bonnet Associates. This work was funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund Project Planning Grant. 

The Disability Access Plan takes an overall view of the Museum, including buildings, interiors and collections. It has been developed to fulfil a central aim of the OUTS Project - to improve access for visitors in ways that are reasonable given the outstanding historic importance of the architecture and fabric of our Grade I listed buildings and of Soane’s arrangements of his collection within our iconic interiors. It is recognised that this is to be achieved without disturbing all that is unique about the Museum and the special qualities that draw all visitors to the institution.

The AP addresses access and inclusion for all visitors to existing and proposed new public areas, facilities and programmes.  It also covers Museum policies, practices and procedures which may restrict or improve access, physical, sensory and intellectual barriers to access and inclusion.  The Plan identifies strategies to deal with potential barriers and improve access by setting out the following:

• Policies, procedures and practices relating to access
• A Review of current provision, commitment to address access and recommended actions that are reasonable
• Strategy and an informed approach for putting actions into place
• Resources to implement the Access Plan
• Organisational commitment to putting the plan into action
• Standards against which the Museum can measure the outcome of actions and future improvements
• Consultation, monitoring and evaluation

OUTS creates opportunities to address barriers to access and offer a more inclusive experience at the Museum for visitors, staff and students. Inclusive design and management are a central part of the vision to increase access for all visitors to unseen parts of the house and collections and improve visitor circulation.
The Plan identified inter alia the following as opportunities to make the future of the Museum more inclusive of people with disabilities:

Museum access

The Museum currently occupies three adjacent Grade I listed historic buildings on a very constrained urban site in the heart of London. The buildings and their contents are of the highest cultural value, and any alteration or modification of the historic fabric - for whatever reason - has to be carefully justified, planned and implemented. Current accessibility for disabled people to these buildings is set out in the ‘Accessibility’ page on the Soane Museum website. This information is updated regularly and is available on request in other media.

As a service provider, the Soane Museum must strive to provide equal access to disabled people by being proactive in making reasonable adjustments to services and premises.

Staff members are aware of current limitations on physical access into the building. To address this our staff offer assistance on site (without compromise to dignity or safety, such as storage of wheelchairs that cannot be used inside).

Since the Disability Access Audit, through the OUTS project works, the Museum has also developed a variety of facilities and resources for disabled visitors:
• External lift: a platform (‘scissor’) lift has been installed in the forecourt of No. 12 to provide step-free access to the basements of Nos. 12, 13 and 14 and thus to the Museum via the internal lift. 
• Internal lift: an internal lift has been installed in No. 12 Lincoln’s Inn Fields which provides step-free access to the upper public floors of the Museum and about 80% of all spaces within Nos. 12, 13, and 14.
• As a result of the lift installation, the public floors of the Museum are accessible to people with mobility difficulties along with the second floor of No. 12.  The Ground and first floors of No. 14 accessible only via steps (these are non-public areas but house the Museum’s Research Library and Seminar Room).  When the OUTS project is completed in 2016, a passage across the No. 12 courtyard will provide permanent disabled access at ground floor level – a temporary solution is already in place but involves taking down a demountable partition. 
• The Museum can provide alternative spaces, such as the Library Dining Room, in which disabled visitors may consult material from the Research Library by prior arrangement.   The Art Room in the Basement of No. 14 can be used for accessible seminars and events as an alternative to the Seminar Room on the ground floor of No. 14. Once the OUTS project is completed, it will be possible to use the new Foyle Project Space (at the back of No. 13) and the Old Kitchen or Rear Kitchen in the Basement of No. 13 for accessible seminars. The Museum has strategies in place for the safe evacuation of disabled people in case of fire which include having a maximum of two wheelchair users in the building at any one time.
•  Two specially made narrow wheelchairs are provided for use within the museum to negotiate narrow but level routes.  A member of staff can be on hand to assist if required and to carry the chairs up and down stairs as necessary.
• The total number of visitors in the Museum at any one time is restricted (due its limited physical capacity) which ensures that all visitors can enjoy the Museum and that their safety can be guaranteed.  
• Assistance dogs are welcomed and can be cared for in appropriate space while assistance dog owners are visiting, if necessary. For more details see our Assistance Dog Policy here.
• Visual alarms for fire alarm alert have been installed in our Accessible Toilets. A staff-managed evacuation system with a sweep check through the building ensures safety for all visitors in the remainder of the Museum.
• An Emergency Call system has been installed in the Museum’s Accessible Toilets which is connected to an alarm in the Warder’s Mess Room and to pagers held by senior House staff.
• A portable loop system is available for D/deaf and hard of hearing group events. Hearing loops are also available at the main entrance and in the shop. An integrated hearing loop system for No. 14  Lincoln’s Inn Fields in the basement, ground and first floors (education/seminar/library areas) is being installed (December 2013).  During Phase 3 of OUTS either a dedicated portable or an integrated hearing loop system will be provided for the new Foyle Project space.
• While the low lighting levels in many parts of the Museum are part of its historic character, additional lighting in the form of torches or additional overhead illumination can often be provided on request.

Education and interpretation

The Equality Act gives disabled people rights to equal provision to education and facilities and a range of provision has been developed at Sir John Soane’s Museum which includes:
• Bookable touch/audio described tours for blind and partially sighted visitors.
• Talks and lectures in British Sign Language (BSL) and lipspoken for D/deaf and hard of hearing visitors.
• Guided tours which take account of people who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids.
• Large Print information is available about the Museum and for all temporary exhibitions.
• MP3 downloads with a variety of standard, specialised and children’s tours can be downloaded from the Museum website.  Text versions for the D/deaf or hard of hearing people are also available for download from the website.
• A new Museum website was launched in 2012 which meets current accessibility standards, for example using the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to meet W3C  (The World Wide Web Consortium) standards and initiatives for inclusive access.
• The Museum also works pro-actively to take many of its educational programmes, particularly those for children/families and older people, out of the Museum as part of an outreach programme.
• The Museum has an Audience Development Plan which has been implemented with a Community Education Programme as part of OUTS: the audiences considered include disabled people, deaf and hard of hearing people, blind and partially sighted people, people with learning disabilities and also people with mental health issues.

Future Plans

• Interactive virtual tour: a virtual tour is planned to: “provide an insight into the Museum areas where steps create a barrier.”  This will be completed in the final stages of the OUTS project in 2016-17.
• Introductory film: the making of an introductory film about Soane is funded as part of Opening up the Soane and will be carried out in 2016.   At present it is planned that this will eventually be shown in the Rear Kitchen of No. 13, which will be fully accessible.

Culture and staff attitudes

The greatest barrier to services for disabled people is often the attitude of staff. A pro-active approach is required from staff at all levels and in all areas to promote equality and inclusion. 
The Soane Museum recognises that staff training is key to increasing awareness of disability and achieving improvements in service delivery. The Museum has instituted training programmes including disability, access awareness and Deaf awareness for all staff, especially Front of House staff.  The Museum also carries out Visitor Service training for all staff.
Sir John Soane’s Museum has an Equal Opportunities Policy summarised below which sets out a commitment to being a responsible employer in relation to both existing and prospective staff.

Equal Opportunities Policy Summary

The Museum is an equal opportunities employer. We are committed to ensuring that within the framework of the law the Museum’s workplaces are free from unlawful discrimination on grounds of race, ethnic or national origin, gender (including gender reassignment), marital status, sexual orientation, age, religion or belief, or disability.
The Museum aims to ensure that members of staff achieve their full potential and all employment decisions are taken without reference to irrelevant or discriminatory criteria.
Recruitment and employment decisions are made on the basis of fair and objective criteria. The Museum’s selection procedures are reviewed from time to time to ensure that they are appropriate for achieving our objectives and for avoiding unlawful discrimination.
The requirements of job applicants and existing members of staff who have or have had a disability are reviewed to ensure that whatever reasonable adjustments that can be made, are made to enable them to enter into or to remain in employment with the Museum. Promotion opportunities, benefits and facilities are not unreasonably limited and every reasonable effort will always be made to ensure that disabled staff can participate fully in the workplace.
Person and job specifications are limited to those requirements which are necessary for the effective performance of the job. Interviews are conducted on an objective basis and personal or home commitments do not form the basis of employment decisions except where necessary.
Appropriate training enables staff to implement and uphold our commitment to equality of opportunity.
Working patterns may be reviewed so as to enable us to offer flexible working to staff subject to the operational needs of the Museum. Where necessary and practicable, special provision will be made for training for staff returning to work following a break for domestic reasons.
All members of staff have a right to equality of opportunity and a duty to implement this policy in relation to others. The Museum’s equal opportunities policy forms part of the induction pack for staff and they sign an undertaking that they have read and understood it as a requirement of employment.  Breach of the equal opportunities policy is potentially a serious disciplinary matter. Anyone who believes that he or she may have been disadvantaged on discriminatory grounds is entitled to raise the matter through the grievance procedure.


In preparing the Disability Action Plan the Museum undertook consultation in a variety of ways.

The Museum has been consulting its regular visitors about possible developments through its annual Visitor Intercept Survey which is designed and evaluated by external professional consultants.  In our most recent Annual Survey (2013) 4% of visitors reported having a disability.  The disability access improvements set out in the OUTS Access Plan assist this group and enable more people with disabilities to benefit. This figure of 4% shows that there is scope for an increase in the numbers of disabled visitors. In London the generally estimated figure for disabled people is 16 - 17%.

The Museum initiated consultation with disabled people in preparing the Access Plan. This began with a meeting to introduce the Museum and the OUTS Project to a group of disabled contacts, focussing on access improvements to be included in the Access Plan. Those consulted included a retired quantity surveyor, an actor and dancer, a BSL presenter, a deaf arts manager, several visual artists & a design graduate with deteriorating visual impairment, a person with Downs Syndrome, two wheelchair users and three deaf persons, the architect in attendance being a wheelchair user. All those who attended the first consultation were impressed by the uniqueness of the Museum and expressed the view that this should not be adversely affected in improving access.

The Access Plan draft was reviewed by a Soane Museum Trustee with disability caused by Parkinson’s disease. 

The Museum now regularly consults with its PACT panel made up of volunteers with disabilities on matters relating to access.

The implementation of the OUTS project

The Museum was successful in raising £7 million to fund the OUTS project, with just under £1 million coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund.  OUTS will be completed by the end of 2016-17.

DES Action Plan Section 2: Non-OUTS deliveries

Evidence gathering is part of the process of achieving greater equality for disabled people and treating employees, service users, and members of the community more fairly and with respect. Gathering evidence is both a specific requirement within the Disability Equality Scheme, and an indispensable prerequisite for complying with other aspects of the Duty.

This information will allow the Museum to:
(i) Assess performance.
(ii) Carry out effective impact assessments.
(iii) Identify barriers to good performance and actions for improvement, review progress and adjust actions as appropriate.
(iv) Set targets for improving outcomes.
(v) Benchmark against other comparable historic house-museums. The Museum asks visitors about disabilities in its annual Visitor Intercept Surveys.

Employment: the Museum will monitor disability among its staff.
Training: the Museum intends to continue disability-related training in line with its Training and Development Plan.
Education: We will provide talks and workshops which are made accessible for people with disabilities for as long as funds allow.
Procurement: the Museum should integrate DES aspirations into everyday procurement of goods and services.
Resources: Making the Museum accessible in all aspects of employment and service provision has obvious financial implications. However, careful planning and incorporating access solutions into the initial planning stage of any project will enable the Museum to minimise extra expenditure. That said, extra finance will be needed to attain most of the required goals. Such extra funding lies outside the Museum’s control and rests with government and private funders.
Further consultation: the Museum has made a commitment in the Disability Equality Scheme to continue consultation with disabled people in both OUTS and future plans. 
Review: there will be a report on progress in the Museum’s Annual Report each year and the Museum will review and revise the DES Action Plan at least once every three years. Specific goals will be assessed in line with the recommendations of the Disabled Access Audit 2006 and subsequent studies and consultations as well as reviewing visitor book comments.