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Survey Mainstream Museum Professionals: Results

Survey Mainstream Museum Professionals: Results

For the Survey, see elsewhere on this website.

In May and June of 2022,  invitations to participate in the Deaf Museums Survey was sent to over 150 individual email addresses of professionals working in mainstream museums across Europe. The email addresses were collected from the websites of the museums.

In addition, the invitation was sent and/or posted on the Facebook pages of over 30 national and international museum networks. 

The text of the invitation:

" The Deaf Museums Project is a transnational Erasmus+ Project, see www.deafmuseums.eu and www.facebook.com/groups/deafmuseumsproject.

One of the objectives of our project: to help bridge the gap between mainstream museums and professionals, and Deaf Museums and professionals. Deaf Museums are museums about Deaf History, Deaf Culture. See: https://www.deafmuseums.eu/index.php/en/deaf-museums/europe

One of our outputs: recommendations. For Deaf Museums to survive, multiply and grow, they may have to cooperate with mainstream museums and professionals. But is this possible? And if possible: how do we  bring this about?

This survey will help us find answers. It consists of 9 easy questions and one more difficult one: question 9, what should we include in our recommendations?
All answers will be anonymous, but will be a great help to us and our project!

Please also complete the survey if you - or your Museum - have never considered accessibility for Deaf visitors or working with the Deaf community. Your answers are important for us - and for the funding of our project!

And please forward this survey to colleagues, other museum professionals, your networks. The more responses we get, the better.

If you want, you can mail us directly at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



25 persons completed the survey. A disappointingly small number, but of course people get many requests to participate in surveys. Most professionals may not have been aware of and/or interested in 'Deaf Museums'. The timing was unfortunate too, because at that time most museums were still struggling with the after-effects of the Covid pandemic and the lock-downs of museums. 

For some, the fact that the Survey was in English may have been a problem.

We are grateful to the people who did make the effort to respond.  When interpreting the results, we have taken into account that the respondents were probably not representative of out target group: professionals working in mainstream museums. The people who answered our questions most probably had some experience with the Deaf community, and/or were interested in Deaf Museums for some other reason. 

In spite of the small number of responses, made by people who probably are not representative of the larger population of museum professionals in Europe, the results are interesting. 


1. 76% of the respondents work in a museum:

Forms response chart. Question title: 1. Do you work in a Museum?. Number of responses: 25 responses.


 2.  Where is your Museum located, in what country? 

  • UK: 7
  • the Netherlands: 6
  • Slovakia: 4
  • Austria: 3
  • Sweden: 2
  • Italy: 1
  • Germany: 1
  • USA (Texas): 1

Partly, the number of countries of the respondents reflect the Museums that we sent our direct mail to. We searched websites for contact persons; English and Dutch websites did not pose any language problems. For other sites, we had to use Google translate to find the relevant information. 


10 respondents work in a national Museum, 6 in a regional Museum, and 5 in a local Museum. This again may well reflect the Museums that we sent our direct mail to: we started out by searching the websites of better known Museums for email addresses. This is also reflected in the answers to question 4, the average number of visitors.

4.  If possible: Can you tell us the number of visitors to your Museum per year? In a regular year, before all COVID-19 restrictions. This will give us an indication of the size of your museum. 

  • 1:    1 million +
  • 4:    500.000 - 1 million
  • 5:    100.000 - 500.000
  • 1:    50.000 - 100.000
  • 6:    50.000 

5. Your knowledge of, and/or contacts with the Deaf community in your region, country? 


19 of the 25 respondents had at least some knowledge and/or contacts with the Deaf community in their country or region. This supports our impression that the people who took the trouble to complete our survey already had some interest in Deaf Museums, the Deaf community.  As explained above: the group of respondents is NOT representative of the population of mainstream Museum professionals. The 6 respondents without any contacts with, knowledge of the Deaf community probably is more representative of the population. 

  6. Heather Hollins (in: ๐™๐™š-๐™‹๐™ง๐™š๐™จ๐™š๐™ฃ๐™ฉ๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐˜ฟ๐™ž๐™จ๐™–๐™—๐™ž๐™ก๐™ž๐™ฉ๐™ฎ: ๐˜ผ๐™˜๐™ฉ๐™ž๐™ซ๐™ž๐™จ๐™ข ๐™–๐™ฃ๐™™ ๐˜ผ๐™œ๐™š๐™ฃ๐™˜๐™ฎ ๐™ž๐™ฃ ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š ๐™ˆ๐™ช๐™จ๐™š๐™ช๐™ข, 2013) distinguishes 4 stages through which museums can progress in developing collaborative, empowering and reciprocal relationships with disabled people.

Can you tick the boxes that apply to your Museum - with respect to Deaf people? More than 1 box is allowed. 

  • 10 ((47.6%):   Our exhibitions and services are accessible to Deaf people; we provide sign language guides
  • 15 (71.4%):    We regularly collaborate with Deaf professionals, Deaf consultants
  • 6 (28.6%):       Deaf people are involved in long term consultation which takes on the form of a two-way dialogue and explores issues that are important to both parties
  • 3 (14.3%):      Deaf people participate in the decision making process at the most senior level in the museum hierarchy and are able to directly influence decisions
  • 2 (9.5%):        Our Museum currently employs one or more Deaf professionals
  • Otherโ€ฆ

People were allowed to tick more than one box, so it is very well possible that the two last categories:  Deaf people participate in the decision making process and Our Museum currently employs one or more Deaf Professionals  overlap. On the positive side: more than 70% of the respondents does regularly collaborate with Deaf professionals, Deaf consultants. 

Some of the 'Other' responses are interesting: 

  • We currently develop a special exhibition on Radio that will make all content accessible to Deaf visitors. 

This person did not understand the question? Does not understand that Radio is not accessible to Deaf visitors? 

A more promising answer:

  • During corona, we offered a course sign language for our employees.


The sentences that are incomplete in the above diagram:

  • I would rather explore integrating deaf culture and/or deaf history in our semi-permanent display than organise a temporary exhibition about the subject.
  • We had an exhibition couple years ago where a part of it was about deaf history in Sweden.
  • We are part of a large Museum agency and are not able to decide as a single museum over our exhibitions schedule. But we are interested in the topic.

The good news: only 6 respondents (24%) says that this is not possible. 

  table8.png Again, a positive result. Only 4 respondents (16%) say this is not possible for them. The majority (16, or 64%) is willing to consider this. 

9 . What - in your opinion - are the top 3 recommendations that we should include? 

An open question with 12 answers, not all of them usable. Some of the very usable recommendations:

  • To engage deaf stakeholders at all stages of the project to ensure any museum project takes account of their needs and is as accessible as possible.
    This should not be treated as a โ€˜box tickingโ€™ exercise, nor should the same individuals be regarded as the spokes people for the community.
    Should give serious consideration to investing in equipment and resources that will benefit aurally impaired visitors (e.g. hearing induction loop, subtitling, etc) as well as training for the staff, appointing people from the deaf community and encouraging them to become volunteers.
  • Include consultation in your planning from the beginning; make sure that costs are included in budgeting from the beginning (Payment for consultation and experts, translation costs, technical requirements, etc); training for staff that centres what is needed by Deaf visitors, rather than what we assume might be needed and an understanding of *why*
  • Integrate deaf culture in permanent displays and regular educational programming.
  • Sensitisation of the staff for a better understanding of the problems and challenges; regular evaluation of the work done.
  • My top 3 requests for better Deaf provision in our Museum would be a handy list of things we could do which would help - in an exhibition that is entirely composed of objects on display and written text, is there anything more that should be provided?; secondly some suggestions of what a Deaf Exhibition might entail (we cover the history of the British Schools movement in the nineteenth-century - I do not know where I would go about finding any information about the deaf communities interaction with our subject area specifically), and thirdly any information you can provide on contacting volunteers in the Deaf community who might want to volunteer at our Museum and provide the services you have spoken of? We are almost entirely volunteer-led and do not have any deaf volunteers, but would be very happy to welcome anyone who wants to get involved.

 10.  Any other advice, comments, information that you want to share with us? 

  • I am interested in how museums might better engage aurally impaired visitors from minority ethnic communities. They face several sets of challenges - understanding a foreign language and showing sensitivity to a different culture - in addition to a disability. I am mindful of the problem of social marginalisation because of this but donโ€™t have data with which to make representations to governing bodies for advocacy purposes.


With interesting answers like this, we can only regret that not more people completed our Survey. And that the questions were answered anonymously: we cannot contact the respondents to ask for more information. 

The main conclusion: even though our sample is not representative of Museum professionals in Europe, there are Museums and Museum professionals in Europe who are interested in working with Deaf professionals, either to make their mainstream exhibitions more accessible - and enjoyable? - for Deaf visitors, and/or to work together to build an exhibition about Deaf history, Deaf culture. 

Collaboration IS possible. And we made a hand-out with some suggestions for Museum professionals who are interested, but don't know where to start: "A Deaf Exhibition? Yes!"

As for the comment under question 10, about Deaf visitors from minority ethnic communities: a very good question, but unfortunately, we do not have any these data either.  



  • "Histories have for too long emphasized the controversies over communication methods and the accomplishments of hearing people in the education of deaf students, with inadequate attention paid to those deaf individuals who created communication bridges and distinguished themselves as change agents in their respective field of endeavour."
    from: Harry G. Lang, Bonny Meath-Lang: Deaf Persons in the Arts and Sciences, 1995
  • "This (Deaf) Museum is not intended as a casual show, to be seen once and forgotten. Its pretensions are nobler; it has a humanitarian aim. By its solid and tangible evidences, making history memorable and attractive by illustration, it serves a double purpose: to dispel ignorance and prejudice regarding the deaf, and to raise the victims of this prejudice and ignorance to their true level in society."
    The British Deaf Monthly, Vol. VI (p.265) 1897. In: Deaf Museums and Archival Centres, 2006
  • "Beyond works of art and objects, museums collect shared heritage, memories and living cultures as well as what we call intangible collectables."
    Source: We are Museums
  • "Museums can increase our sense of wellbeing, help us feel proud of where we have come from, and inspire, challenge and stimulate us."
    Source: https://www.museumsassociation.org/campaigns/museums-change-lives/
  • "An important matter for any minority group is that written documents in public archives are often drawn up by the majority group and do not always reflect a minority as it sees itself. Thus, preserving sign language narration is of the utmost importance and a challenge to those working in the field of Deaf history."
    In: TIINA NAUKKARINEN, Finnish Museum of the Deaf: Presenting the Life of Carl Oscar Malm (1826โ€“1863)
  • โ€œOne story makes you weak. But as soon as we have one-hundred stories, you will be strong.โ€
    Chris Cleave in "Little Bee", 2008
  • โ€œStories of disability are largely absent from museum displays. Where they appear, they often reflect deeply entrenched, negative attitudes towards physical and mental difference. Research reveals that museums donโ€™t simply reflect attitudes; they are active in shaping conversations about difference.
    Projects created with disabled people show that museums hold enormous potential to shape more progressive, accurate and respectful ways of understanding human diversity. Why wouldnโ€™t we take up this opportunity? โ€
    Richard Sandell, co-director, Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, University of Leicester
  • "As recently as the 1970s, deaf history did not exist. There were available sketches of various hearing men, primarily teachers, who were credited with bringing knowledge and enlightenment to generations of deaf children, but deaf adults were absent."

    In: Preface to: "Deaf History Unvailed, Interpretations from the New Scholarship". John Vickrey van Cleve, editor
    Publisher: Gallaudet University Press, 1993
  • "For many members of the Deaf community their shared history is both personal and social. Deaf people will have gone to the same school, in many cases boarding schools where most of their younger lives will have been spent together, and then met again at their Deaf clubs, Deaf social events, reunions and other more personal events.
    One of the first things a Deaf person will often ask on meeting, before asking your name, is what school or Deaf club you go to. Making this connection is an important part of any greeting, as it will then help an individual to understand what shared history or people in common you may have."
    from: The Cultural Model of Deafness
  • "Until the fall semester of 1986, the history department at Gallaudet University had never before offered a course in the history of deaf people.
    In the 122 years, to that point, since the founding of the university, which was specifically intended for the education of deaf peoples, no one had ever taught a course about this very group of people.
    In all of those years the history department had offered courses on a wide range of topics but never deaf history. "
    ENNIS, WILLIAM T., et al. โ€œA Conversation: Looking Back on 25 Years of A Place of Their Own.โ€ Sign Language Studies, vol. 17, no. 1, 2016, pp. 26โ€“41. 
  • "And yet, even within a large and, in many ways, traditional organization such as this (Trรธndelag Folk Museum, Norway), the museum's encounter with Deaf culture contributed to profound changes and a process, still underway, which challenges our own understanding of what a museum is today, our role in society and our obligations towards more diverse audiences than those we had previously engaged or even recognized."
    Hanna Mellemsether, in:  Re-presenting Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum, 2013
  • "Nina Simon has described true inclusion in a museum context as occurring when museums value the diversity in their audience, value those individualsโ€™ potential and contributions, when they actively link those diverse people across differences, and when the organisation reaches out with generosity and curiosity at the core.
    On a practical level this sort of museum practice would see widespread inclusion of people with disabilities in the planning of museum exhibitions, on museum boards and steering committees, and working in curatorial roles."
    In: Corinne Ball: Expressing Ourselves, 2020
  • โ€œIf you do not know where you come from, then you don't know where you are, and if you don't know where you are, then you don't know where you're going. And if you don't know where you're going, you're probably going wrong.โ€
    Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight
  • "Inclusion is moving from โ€œwe tolerate your presenceโ€ to โ€œwe WANT you here with usโ€.
    Jillian Enright in The Social Model of Disability, 2021
  • "It was only during the past decade that recognition of the importance of preserving Deaf history has emerged. In the main, Deaf heritage, culture and folklore has been passed down from generation to generation via the medium of sign language and fingerspelling. (..) It is also vital that the history of Deaf people is made available to future generations, especially Deaf schoolchildren as part of their history lessons."
    A. Murray Holmes,  in: Cruel Legacy, an introduction of Deaf people in history, by A.F. Dimmock, 1993
  • "Deaf people have always had a sense of their history as it was being passed down in stories told by generations of students walking in the hallways of their residential schools and by others who congregated in their clubs, ran associations, attended religious services, and played in sporting events.
    With these activities, the deaf community exhibited hallmarks of agency โ€” an effort to maintain their social, cultural, and political autonomy amid intense pressure to conform as hearing, speaking people."
    BRIAN H. GREENWALD AND JOSEPH J. MURRAY, in: Sign Language Studies, Volume 17, Number 1, Fall 2016
  • "The Finnish Museum of the Deaf) was founded by deaf people, and, thus, its task has been to strengthen their identity and historical communality.

    Most of our materials have a connection to the key experiences that generations of deaf people have shared. These are important in understanding the past and keeping the collective memory alive."
    In: TIINA NAUKKARINEN, Finnish Museum of the Deaf: Presenting the Life of Carl Oscar Malm (1826โ€“1863)
  • "Access to and participation in culture is a basic human right. Everyone has a right to representation and agency in museums, and communities should have the power to decide how they engage."
    Source: A manifesto for museum learning and engagement
  • "Deaf mute, deaf and dumb, hearing impaired โ€“ the choices are many and not without consequences. Words have many meanings, they convey attitudes and prejudices and may hurt, even when used in a well-intended context."
    Hanna Mellemsether, in:  Re-presenting Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum, 2013
  • "After all, we are all of us explorers, and we all have much to bring to each other from our own
    Ladd, P. (2003). Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood.
  • "The most significant function of museums is as centres for cultural democracy, where children and adults learn through practical experience that we all have cultural rights. Having the opportunity to create, and to give to others, may be one of our greatest sources of fulfilment. Culture is everywhere and is created by everyone."
    Source: A manifesto for museum learning and engagement
  • "Museums can increase our sense of wellbeing, help us feel proud of where we have come from, and inspire, challenge and stimulate us."
    Source: Museums Change Lives
  • "What has become clear is that museums donโ€™t just function as custodians of the past anymore; instead, they have embraced their responsibility towards the communities of the present: a responsibility to represent them, to speak to them, and to be open to dialogue with them."
    Tim Deakin, August 2021
  • "The UN Declaration of Human Rights states that โ€œEveryone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the communityโ€. This is based on the principle that citizens are not just consumers of cultural capital created by others; we have agency and the right to contribute through culture to the wider good of society."
    Source: A manifesto for museum learning and engagement
  • "Opening ourselves to the Deaf community, listening to and respecting them as co-creators and experts telling the stories they want told, makes our practice richer, and has ongoing positive effects for the community.
    These embryonic relationships hopefully encourage Deaf people to feel welcome in our space โ€” itโ€™s their space too.
    For both side, communities and museum professionals, while genuinely, openly and truly committing to working together can be time-consuming, it repays any investment many-fold."
    Corinne Ball: โ€˜Expressing ourselvesโ€™: creating a Deaf exhibition", 2020
  • the past can hurt

    From: Walt Disney, The Lion King

  • "The Deaf community is international. What binds Deaf people, despite their different national sign languages, is their shared visual communication, history, cultural activities, and the need for a Deaf โ€œspaceโ€ where people come together."

    from: The Cultural Model of Deafness