10 Minutes With Rafie Cecilia

Each week I spend 10 minutes with someone from the cultural-sector-meets-digital and ask them about their career, opinions, and what’s on their radar.

This week I spoke with Rafie Cecilia.

Rafie Cecilia, PhD candidate at UCL, and Accessibility & Inclusion Consultant at the Wellcome Collection

Always listen to disabled people, and put their voice first: constantly let their voices challenge your assumptions and redefine your practice.

☕ Tea or coffee?

I’m having a nice cup of Earl Grey tea.

💼 About your career and where you are now: accidental or intentional?

Intentional: I started a PhD 4 years ago and have finished the final draft (I’m very happy with it). I say my career was “intentional” because at the same time as my PhD, I’ve always worked as a consultant and audience researcher on the side for institutions in London and Cambridge, because I always valued having both the practical and academic sides. It means it’s a lot of work, but at the same time it’s really helpful to be in constant conversations with practitioners and academics, and to get a bit of both into my research project.

I went straight from my Master’s degree to a PhD, but at the same time I was working as an Audience Researcher for the British Museum (which then evolved to Accessibility & Inclusion Consultant). During my PhD, I also worked for the Wellcome Collection and the Fitzwilliam Museum. 

📚 Describe your current job

My PhD looks at the experience of blind and partially sighted people: I explore at the way they use their bodies, how they use objects and resources such as technology to make sense of the collection and the space. 

My job at the Wellcome Collection, which is related to my PhD, is consulting with 2 exhibition teams on upcoming exhibitions, and looking at strategies to overcome the newfound barriers that COVID has brought, such as social distancing, and the difficulty to offer tactile/hands-on opportunities. We’re currently figuring out ways to work around the restrictions and make the exhibitions as accessible as possible, especially for blind and partially-sighted people: when museums re-open, how will their experience be? What will it be for the general public, but mostly what will it be for those people if we take away multi-sensory opportunities and accessible services? We’re developing both physical and digital strategies to let visitors experience exhibitions, such as audioguides, audio-descriptions, or single-use tactile material. 

I think it’s extremely important at the moment, because accessibility has suffered with the impact of restrictions imposed by the pandemic, and it’s something that needs to be thought through within museums. The pandemic can’t be yet another excuse to offer disabled people even lesser experiences.

🤩 What are you working on right now that you’re particularly enjoying?

I’m looking at the possibility of using different materials for 3D printing, and how it can be cheaper without impacting the quality, and if those can be used as single use resources for exhibitions. I find it very interesting to think about how the intangible value of an object can be communicated through a 3D-printed replica. It’s such an evolving technology that opens up so many opportunities. 

I’ve also just published a new article in the Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies on COVID and accessibility in museums.

📣 What’s happening in the industry that’s on your radar?

A lot more conversations about accessibility are starting: museums have always been good at talking about it and implementing simple measures, but the pandemic has raised awareness about how we need to listen to the voice of disabled people more. It’s always been difficult to bring those people to museums to participate in focus groups or audience research but with digital platforms there’s been a surge in those conversations, and it’s actually easy to reach out to those audiences and easy to create online user research that can inform practice.

📖 Anything you’d recommend to read/watch/listen to?

My PhD! Otherwise, the Wellcome Trust’s blog about the way people have started re-thinking health-related themes is very interesting. It sheds some light on disparities the pandemic has highlighted, and that is not only related to museums but to everyone.

💡 What advice would you give someone who would like to do what you do?

Always listen to disabled people, and put their voice first: constantly let their voice challenge your assumptions, and don’t give in to an institution asking for a shortcut. If someone approaches you with a simple easy solution without bothering with research, say no: disabled people deserve to be heard. This is something nobody should ever compromise on.

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