NOVA is a Disability Employment Agency, funded by the Australian Government's Department of Employment & Workplace Relations. The Museum has been actively working with NOVA since 2005 and here's what we've been up to.

NOVA is a Disability Employment Agency, funded by the Australian Government's Department of Employment & Workplace Relations. They are a supported employment program offering specialist job seeking assistance and post placement support. NOVA primarily works with young people (called “trainees”) who have an Intellectual Disability and are likely to require on-going help (via “job coaches”) to stay in work. NOVA is an “open employment” program, finding trainees work in the general community with the same working conditions as people who do not have a disability.

We first made contact with NOVA when undertaking the Museum Audiences with Disabilities study. Since 2005 several groups of trainees aged 16-21 years, along with their job coaches, have made five visits to the Museum. They were specifically invited give feedback to the Museum on the following temporary exhibitions – Whodunit, How to Make a Monster and Dinosaur Unearthed, as well as our new permanent exhibitions Dinosaurs and Surviving Australia. Other purposes of the consultations have been to develop the trainees’ skills and confidence in visiting a museum as well as in giving feedback and advice.

We structure the day so that the trainees and their job coaches are welcomed, briefed about what we’d like them to do, then they are let loose to wander around, take photographs and generally engage in the museum experience. Sometimes we have a content specialist on hand to talk about their work, other times a project manager to talk about the development of an exhibition, and at other times a range of staff working on specific project teams tag along.

This arrangement is an excellent example of a reciprocal relationship where everyone benefits – the trainees are able to further refine their independence and feedback skills and the outing enables job coaches to get together (as they often don’t get this opportunity). Apart from the obvious benefits for the Museum in terms of receiving feedback from the perspective of those with intellectual disabilities, we are able to work with an often poorly represented community and give something back to them. On reflection, the Museum has been able to provide both trainees and their job coaches with an enjoyable, social experience that encourages them to see museums as welcoming places that value their input.

After a lag of 18 months or so we have now reconnected and are actively planning the next series of visits – we’re thinking of discussing digital technologies and museums as well as plans for some upcoming temporary exhibitions as well as our revamped learning facilities. Having noticed the uptake of smartphones among this group in earlier visits, I'm particularly keen to see how we could use this technology to connect to and enhance the experiences of audience groups with disabilities.

Watch this space!