Study on the accessibility of heritage sites under the umbrella of the DGPC
At the DEPOF (1) we developed an innovative research about the accessibility for people with disabilities of areas open to the public in the 23 (twenty-three) monuments, palaces, museums and archaeological sites under the umbrella of the DGPC. To do so, we created a set of data collection grids which we called MATRIZ, the latest version of which is available HERE.
(1) DEPOF - Departamento de Estudos, Projetos, Obras e Fiscalização (Department of Studies, Projects, Construction Works and Supervision of the DGPC)
In this study, we approached accessibility as a global theme with multiple facets, transversal to the life of institutions, covering all sectors of activity and also all employees. As recommended by international good practices, the concept includes many other aspects in addition to physical access.
The purpose of this analysis was to identify the main obstacles to accessibility, formulate suggestions to overcome them and define priorities for action to support the choice of investments to be made. These transformations will contribute to greater inclusion of people with disabilities, who will thus have better conditions to visit public monuments, palaces, museums and archaeological sites.
We developed the study over 3 years (2014, 2015 and 2016) and presented the conclusions to the Directorate of the DGPC in 2017.
We set up a multidisciplinary team to develop this study, consisting of Fátima Peralta (design), João Herdade (architecture and museography) and Clara Mineiro (accessible communication), supervised by João Seabra Gomes, then director of the DEPOF.
Themes under analysis
We created a list of 10 themes with implications for accessibility: 1. Building. 2. Location and orientation. 3. Exhibitions. 4. Communication and advertising. 5. Security. 6. Consulting. 7. Training. 8. Employment and volunteering. 9. Evaluation. 10. Accessibility management policy.
On each of the themes, we established a set of evaluation criteria formulated through questions whose answer should be YES. Some of these criteria follow what is stipulated in Decree-Law No. 163/2006 of August 8, but many others went beyond this legal diploma, which is restricted to architectural issues. This means that our assessment reflected not only the degree of compliance with Portuguese legislation, but also with internationally recognized good practice. Therefore, the defined criteria were not mandatory, but rather recommendations that corresponded to international quality standards.
Our work methodology went through several stages.
. Creation of grids for data collection – We conceived the MATRIX in Excel spreadsheets, so that the information could be treated qualitatively and also quantitatively.
- Filling in the grids – We filled in some of the grids when visiting the sites through direct observation of the three members of the research team, but others were filled in during the interviews with the directors and two other members of their staff. In this way, in all cases we were able to collect the same data from three different sources, ensuring its validity. We assigned a different weight to each of the themes within the set, thus obtaining a numerical assessment of the accessibility of each studied place, expressed in terms of % of compliance with the previously established criteria.
- Drafting the final report - Based on the completed grids, we prepared a detailed final report for each place identifying the problems, formulating suggestions to overcome them and establishing intervention priorities. We translated the final assessment of the degree of accessibility of each monument, palace, museum or archaeological site in terms of % compliance with legal standards and good practice.
Quantitative and qualitative assessment
Through the % obtained in the Excel sheets and the text content of the reports, we obtained a quantitative and qualitative assessment of the accessibility of all heritage sites under the umbrella of the DGPC.
The grids we have created are applicable to all the heritage sites under the umbrella of the DGPC, whether they are monuments, palaces, museums or archaeological sites, assuming that all of them are musealized spaces, with more similarities than differences. This tool has proven to be very useful to other entities, who have contributed to its improvement with their criticisms and suggestions. These also include Theatres, Archives and Libraries.
The above mentioned features give this work an innovative character, whose methodology was tested, measured and validated in the diversity of all heritage sites under the umbrella of the DGPC.
You can download the conclusions of the “Access audit in Portuguese heritage” sites HERE.
Is it a scientific study?
This investigation is a thoughtful self-assessment exercise, but it is not a scientific study. The main reason for this has to do with our MATRIX, which was not stabilized before starting the field work. On the contrary, it has been improved as we used it, detecting errors or omissions. For that reason, the grids we used in the last evaluations were more rigorous than those in the first versions. It was also more complete, because we added the assessment of service spaces not open to the public. Despite all this, the methodology we used was effective and has been replicated by other institutions, regardless of their nature or guardianship.
Monuments, palaces, museums and archaeological sites are different realities.
Were they evaluated in the same way?
Although these categories correspond to heritage sites with distinct characteristics, we assumed that they are all musealized spaces with similarities that outweigh the differences. In this line of thought, we considered that in the case of museums, the exhibition concept is organized mainly around the collections, while in the case of monuments and archaeological sites, the main objects on display are the buildings themselves. Palaces are interesting both for the building and its content.
Are the conclusions of 2017 still valid?
It is good to see that in 2021 the reality is no longer exactly the same, due to the initiative of colleagues who work in the various places and of those who are in central services. In fact, the DGPC submitted several applications for European Community funding that were approved, enabling solutions pointed out in the study for many of the accessibility problems identified.
We are currently reassessing some monuments, palaces and museums, with the aim of monitoring the transformations that have taken place over the last few years.
What funding sources have been used to solve accessibility problems?
In addition to funds included in the DGPC's annual budgets, we have applied to European Community programs to promote accessibility and inclusion. More information in Work in progress.
What is the impact of this study at national and international level?
- At national level:
Accessibility in the accreditation process for joining the Rede Portuguesa de Museus (RPM) (Portuguese Museum Network)
According to article 110 of the Framework Law for Portuguese Museums, the accreditation of museums is a voluntary process that consists of the assessment and official recognition of their technical quality, aiming at promoting access to culture and enriching cultural heritage. The result is its integration into the Portuguese Museums Network (RPM), when all museological functions are fulfilled, including accessibility (Normative Dispatch No. 3/2006, ANNEX I, chapter II, point 19.3 .)
Our MATRIX for accessibility assessment has been used since 2017 by colleagues of the DGPC from the Department of Museums, Conservation and Accreditation (DMCC) during their technical visits to each museum. It forms an integral part of the accreditation process.
More information HERE.
This study was the basis of the strategy for the Promotion of Accessibility and inclusion of Museums, Monuments and Palaces under the DGPC and the Regional Directorates of Culture 2021-2025 (Microsoft Word - EPAI english version new (patrimoniocultural.gov.pt).
Dispatch 2016/2022 - Approves the Strategy for the Promotion of Accessibility and Inclusion of Museums, Monuments and Palaces under the responsibility of the DGPC and the Regional Directorates of Culture 2021-2025. - Available HERE
- At an international level:
Based on this work, the Observatório Ibero-americano de Museus (OIM) (Ibero-American Observatory of Museums) developed an application in the form of a simplified questionnaire, following the 10 subjects of our MATRIX. It is available to group members in Spanish, Portuguese from Portugal and Portuguese from Brazil.
This very simplified version of the MATRIZ includes only 43 (forty-three) questions and portrays each observer's view of their own reality. In other words, whoever fills in the form makes a self-diagnosis of the accessibility of their museum, while in the case of the DGPG, the diagnosis of the different realities was always carried out by the same team.