In the first instalment of the Historic Environment Forum’s Sector Resilience Interviews series focussed on the theme of Diversity and Inclusion, we speak to Steve Dering, Director, Strategic Partnerships at Direct Access Consultancy.
Please tell us about your organisation’s role in the sector.

Established in 2004, Direct Access is an accessibility and inclusion consultancy. A certified DOBE – Disability Operated Business Enterprise, our team of 18, the majority disabled people, work mainly within the heritage and museum sector to improve access. Direct Access works with most of the DMCS-funded national museums, English Heritage, the National Trust, Historic England and with independent museums through the regional Museum Development Associations. Direct Access are also the Access Consultants for National Museums Wales and have worked with heritage clients in Northern Ireland. UNESCO sites include the Cities of Bath and Canterbury, Giants Causeway in Ireland.

For Direct Access, it is not just about physical access, it is how a complete programme of access can be facilitated from digital information to sensory stimuli and interaction with others. Only when all of these four pillars are combined is inclusion achieved.

What can you tell us about your organisation’s work in relation to Diversity and Inclusion? What does this work aim to achieve?

To ensure services are accessible for disabled people, it is important to be aware of the obstacles encountered by persons with physical, sensory or intellectual impairments. Their needs will vary and will inform the kind of action that is appropriate and can be delivered where practicable. Obstacles to accessibility for disabled people encompass a broad range of both tangible and intangible elements including:

  • Communication, where presented in inaccessible formats;
  • Lack of awareness of the needs of different impairment cohorts;
  • The physical environment, e.g. design, layout, signage, lighting;
  • Service design, e.g. where systems, procedures and practices can present obstacles.


Achieving heritage accessibility is much more than just adding elevators and ramps, as heritage encompasses everything from natural landscapes to ceremonial traditions. Making heritage available for future generations is a key part of sustainable conservation practices, which should include the participation of people from all ages and abilities. It is important to remember that people are not disabled; rather, it is poorly designed environments that create barriers which disable people.

What contribution will this make towards resilience in the heritage sector?

Where restorations and preservation have been carried out, these need to respect the traditional building techniques and the use of traditionally treated local materials such as baked brick, wood and stone.

Direct Access’ team of Access Consultants on this programme understand the importance of conservation work and that any accessibility proposals developed are sensitive to the preservation of this site for generations to come.

What does success look like for your work?

Improved accessibility for disabled people both as visitors and as staff/volunteers.

Image depicts a person using their hands to feel along an interpretation board which is situated in front of an old-looking window with light coming into the historic space.
Tactile interpretation boards enable blind visitors to experience history and heritage (c) Direct Access Group
How can colleagues find out more?

Clients commission Direct Access for a wide range of reasons – these include:

• Accessibility audits – to support NLHF or Arts Council funding applications or to ascertain the current status of accessibility.
• Access Consultancy – new building design or gallery development to hold heritage assets.
• Accessible formats – production of a range of accessible format materials to support visitors from Braille to audio description or sign language.
• Staff training and development.

You can contact the team on 0845 056 4421 or

Overall, what do you think is most crucial for ensuring a resilient heritage sector?

Partnership working – the spectrum of disability is huge and sometimes can be dauting for our clients who are not sure where to start. Direct Access is experienced in working with and engaging with clients from local communities to UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

This Sector Resilience interview was shared by Steve as part of our Heritage Sector Resilience Plan activities.

If you’d like to contribute an interview as part of the series, follow the link below to find out more:

Sector Resilience Interviews – Historic Environment Forum