Making science more inclusive, accessible to all

Participants drawing up a list of personal commitments for change to make Petrosains more disability-inclusive.

Facilitating workshops can be a load of fun when the participants actively contribute to the discussions.

This was exactly what happened during the workshops I conducted for Petrosains on behalf of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) Malaysia.

Petrosains is a science discovery centre that uses fun and interactive approach to tell the story of science and technology in Malaysia’s energy industry. The centre occupies two floors of Tower 1 and Tower 2 of the Petronas Twin Towers that covers an exhibit area of more than 7,000 square meters.

The centre recently inked a two-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Unicef Malaysia to become a Unicef Inclusion Champion. Through this MOU, Unicef Malaysia will support the centre to redevelop the premises, exhibits and activities to be more inclusive of disabled children and adults as well.

“During this period, children with disabilities will be at the core of all activities,” said Zoe Gan, disability consultant with Unicef Malaysia. “They will lead in research that looks at what can be improved and will act as co-designers in the exhibits redesign phase that is planned.”

To kick off the collaboration, I was invited to conduct two workshops on Disability Equality Training (DET) and Disability-Related Services Training (DRST). This was to ensure the frontline staff have the skills and confidence in assisting and interacting with disabled visitors.

There were 57 participants altogether. They were staff from different departments that have dealings with visitors one way or another. The number of participants for each workshop was kept to around twenty to give every participant a chance to contribute their ideas during group work and discussions.

The workshops comprised two parts. The morning sessions were devoted to DET. Participants worked on a series of exercises that led them to identify the real causes of disability and apply various approaches in solving problems. In the afternoon at the DRST sessions, they had hands-on learning on how to interact and assist visitors with physical, visual, hearing and learning disabilities.

From the get-go, they were enthusiastically involved in discussions, openly sharing their experiences and views, examining the problems presented, and finding solutions to them. They were the most animated and lively group of participants I have ever facilitated. Most of them already have prior experience working with disabled people and the premises was already built with accessible facilities as it is. This made my job much easier.

DET workshops do not end with knowledge transmission only. Knowledge without action is wasted. That is the reason why there is always a module in DET for participants to formulate action plans to put what they have learnt into practice. This is to encourage them to take ownership of the issues and make necessary rectifications or improvements.

The participants for both workshops drew up lists of personal commitments to make their work practice or work area more inclusive. The lists of commitments were presented in groups. As I listened to each of their presentation, I could sense their excitement as they explained what they were going to do.

Among others, the proposed improvements include modifying the Formula 1 simulators to make them more accessible and functional for visitors with mobility limitations, adding subtitle to videos for visitors with hearing disabilities, and including Braille for all informational signage for visitors with visual disabilities. In my opinion, most if not all of their commitment for change are feasible. When implemented, the initiatives will greatly enhance the experience of disabled visitors to the centre.

After the second workshop, Lee Ying Ying, Head of Learning Research at Petrosains Centre of Learning and Innovation gave me a short tour of the centre. According to Lee, it would take approximately five hours to go through all the exhibits on both floors.

I was most impressed by the mock-up of an offshore oil drilling platform assembled with parts from decommissioned oil rigs. On display were also the tungsten carbide drill bits used to bore through soil and rocks to reach the crude oil reservoirs deep below the Earth’s surface.

The walkthrough was for me to see for myself and understand what it would take for the participants to accomplish their goals. With creativity and modifications, I can safely say that it should not be too difficult to upgrade Petrosains to become more accessible and inclusive.

Incidentally, a couple of weeks before I was contacted to run the workshops, I had told my wife that we should visit Petrosains one day while we were passing by its entrance. In all the years we have lived in Kuala Lumpur, we never thought of going in. And having seen the various interesting interactive exhibits, albeit briefly, I am even keener now. It would be a productive day spent exploring and learning through science how things around us work and for general knowledge.

I am excited at being given the opportunity to play a small part in transforming Petrosains. I can’t wait to see how it will be like two years from now. I hope what is being done here will be replicated in other discovery centres and museums. A big kudos to Unicef Malaysia and Petrosains in blazing the trail in disability-inclusion.

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