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February 2011



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Dea Birkett

The Guardian Monday 21 February 2011

When Tate Modern opened, it shouted inclusivity. Now it makes my disabled daughter enter through the back door

There’s a major cultural institution my family can only enter through the back door. We pass buckets of cleaning materials, staff health and safety notices and piles of cardboard boxes. We’re checked in to the building at the same desk at which a stationary package arrives, and are handled as if we were one. This place is Tate Modern. And my family have been relegated to accessing this high-minded cultural institution through the tradesmen’s entrance because my daughter is disabled.

We used to be able to enter by the same door as every other visitor. But when work on the Tate’s £215m extension began last year, overnight all the disabled parking bays were removed. Instead, if there’s room, disabled visitors and their families can park at the rear and use the staff entrance. If, like my family and many other disabled people, you can’t use public transport, this is your only option.

When Tate Modern opened 10 years ago, the disabled community cheered. Here was a building of national and international significance whose entry was a whopping great ramp. No other building of such importance shouted inclusion quite as loudly.

It’s particularly disappointing when that same building lets us know families like mine don’t matter. In another place, when one section of society was condemned to a different, less attractive, unseen entrance it was called apartheid.

Tate Modern isn’t the only cultural powerhouse to treat its disabled visitors differently. The National Gallery boasted that it was lowering some of its collection, “enabling visitors in wheelchairs to examine the paintings at close distance”. Just three of the gallery’s 2,300 works were lowered – Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Constable’s The Hay Wain and Monet’s The Gare St-Lazare – and for one night only, just two and a half hours, which had to be booked in advance. By the next morning, these iconic paintings were at full height again – inaccessible, along with 2,297 others.

Read in Full: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/feb/21/disability-galleries-theatres-access-tate

Tate Modern

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