Touch Pods by Access to Heritage Mencap Liverpool

Touch Pods by Access to Heritage Mencap Liverpool

2011 Digital Access for People with a Learning Disability Winner

Exemplary qualities

This highly engaging project went the full journey with the users, clearly driven by members of the learning disabled community.

The Arduino software has been used very effectively to play sound which engages people with and without learning disabilities.

Started off with simple artefacts and shaped by users, Touch Pods offers a moment of creative marvel.

The project

‘Touch Pods’ is a new and exciting piece of multisensory interpretation for the National Wildflower Centre in Liverpool.
It is part of Mencap Liverpool’s ‘Access to Heritage’ project.
Through a mix of microscope and handling sessions, 3D making and creating texture, sound workshops and a film, the project set out to make the microscopic yet amazing world of wildflower seeds accessible to a wider audience, including people with learning disabilities.

Artists working with touch and sound were selected to work in consultation with young people and adults with learning disabilities. The aim was to find out what it was about wildflower seeds seen close up that would fascinate them as much as it fascinates scientists.

There are three ‘Touch Pods’ one fluffy, one with craters and one with ridges – echoing textures found on seeds close up under the microscope. Each pod has a sound – triggered by touching in a certain way – promoting exploration and movement.

The pods are containers for a range of non precious objects for handling, and some artist made objects for handling, wearing, smelling, playing, sorting – to promote interaction in a group and discussion about texture, each linked by texture to a specific pod.
The pods are mobile so they can be used on a lap.

There is no specific way to use the resource so that groups can explore and discover what it does and what’s in it at their own pace and in their own way.

The project has been followed with a blog that documents many of the workshops and presents descriptions of the sessions and artists feedback.

The project cost £16,000 for materials, workshops, forum expenses, artist fees etc. funded by the Arts Council of England and Knowsley’s Learning Disability Partnership Board and £5,500 staff time to co-ordinate the project.

The project was completed in September 2011, and will be ready for public use when the National Wildflower Centre (where the touch pods will be based) reopens in March 2012.

Other activities

Mencap Liverpool is a small learning disability charity providing outreach support, information, career coaching and volunteering opportunities for individuals who have a learning disability (and their families) living in the Liverpool area. It has over 40 volunteers, including more than 20 who have a learning disability.

Access to Heritage is a project set up by Mencap Liverpool.
The Access to Heritage forum is a core group of 25 people from local day centres and the Royal School for the Blind that works closely with heritage venues as consultants when they are planning and designing new access and interpretation.

Mencap Liverpool continues to run projects working with artists in close consultation with people with learning disabilities to produce unique multisensory interpretation for our partner venues. ‘Touch Pods’ is one of these projects

For past projects with other venues, they have produced accessible leaflets – including a scratch and sniff menu for a banquet at St Georges Hall and a trail guide for the sensory trail at Speke Hall.


Mencap Liverpool ran at least 25 consultation workshop sessions with a variety of invited groups – some were secondary school children, including the Royal School for the Blind, with one focus group that had more frequent sessions throughout the project.
Following the workshops there was a feedback day for some of the groups, the artists and centre staff. This was a hands-on session, which looked at potential ways to make the interpretation using what had been learnt from the groups. This is documented on the blog.
Working with people with a very wide range of learning disabilities and visual impairments caused the artists to focus on aspects that excited the groups, instead of what might have been expected
The consultation process shaped the outcome of the interpretation in ways that would never occurred to artists or designers without such a close working relationship with people with learning disabilities. For instance there is no direct link back to seeds at all – for the groups it wasn’t that important, it became about texture and contrast – the feel of things.

The future

The Touch Pods are a truly accessible collection, which has helped many people with disabilities to fully appreciate the beauty and science of wildflowers through the workshops. However, since the product of the workshops is the creation of an accessible resource to be housed at the National Wildflower Centre, people with disabilities, children and the general public will also be able to access this learning through interacting with the Touch Pods.

Future plans include staff training in disability awareness, run with a lot of input from people with learning disabilities. Also staff involvement from an earlier stage in consultations and workshops so that they understand ‘Touch Pods’ and why it’s there and can pass on their interest to visitors.