Dundee Science Centre

Accessibility in the Bag for Dundee Visitor Attraction

On International Day of Persons with Disabilities (Friday 3 December 2021), a Dundee family is welcoming the efforts made by a local visitor attraction to widen access and participation.

Nicola and Ross Donnelly’s son Leo (4) has Cerebral Palsy, manifesting itself through developmental delays and visual impairment. Despite his challenges, Leo enjoys a packed social life with nursery, football, early years theatre group and visits to Dundee disabled children’s charity The Yard.

To support families, regardless of the challenges they face, Dundee Science Centre has created a supply of sensory backpacks to enhance their visit. Initially piloted in 2019, they have recently been updated to include a variety of sensory and fidget toys based on feedback from previous users.

Each backpack contains a pair of ear defenders, weighted beanbag, mirror, stress relief toy, flashing pendant necklace, bubble timer and a squishy flashing ball. The bags also include a map of the centre with areas that may have noises or flashing lights highlighted, as well as the new Sensory Zone and Changing Places toilet.

Leo Donnelly

Nicola, Leo and Ross Donnelly of Dundee (photo provided by the Donnelly family).

Alanna Cairns, Science Communicator said, “Visitor attractions should be accessible to everyone, with no-one excluded. Science centres have a particularly important role to play as children can gain so much from engaging with us. We’ve gone to great lengths to incorporate accessibility and equality into our recent CONNECT refurbishment and the backpacks take that one step further.

“Although most likely to be used by children with ASD or ADHD, the backpacks are designed for anyone of any age, who feels they would benefit from one. We’re getting great feedback from families and carers saying the packs are really enhancing the experience of their day out. Rather than having to bring lots of their own things from home, children are delighted by what’s inside the bag, with a great mix of items to calm and engage them but also to spark their interest and stimulate the senses.”

As a wheelchair user, the Donnelly family’s activities can be limited. However, Leo’s mum Nicola is welcoming the changes that attractions like Dundee Science Centre are incorporating.

Nicola said, “There is so much more to accessibility and inclusion than being able to get through the door of a building. Visitor attractions need to be thinking about the whole experience for their visitors. You can tell that Dundee Science Centre has done a great job of consulting with the ASN community and implementing their suggestions. Leo gets a lot out of his visits here. The exhibits are very interactive and stimulating for the senses and he is keen to engage with them. The new sensory bags are a great addition as an interesting kit in their own right but also as tools to use along with the exhibits. Leo recognised a few things in the bag which got his attention and then tried things he wasn’t so familiar with and was very interested. It’s definitely one of the most thoughtful venues we have encountered.”

Gillian Dunlop, Service Manager at Capability Scotland shared their thoughts – “Capability Scotland was delighted to be part of the planning and development of these sensory backpacks as a way to make learning about science more accessible to everyone. Having that extra tangible accompaniment to the Science Centre will provide a great touchstone for many people, including those with different sensory needs. Our customers and staff are excited to come to the Centre soon and see the new bags in action – and have a turn ourselves!”

International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) is a UN day that is celebrated every year on 3 December. The day is about promoting the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities at every level of society and development, raising awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of political, social, economic, and cultural life.

The sensory backpacks are available to collect on arrival at Dundee Science Centre and return on departure. To pre-book one for your visit, please visit www.dundeesciencecentre.org.uk.