Interview with Sophie Buck

June 22, 2024, 12:40 a.m.
Sophie Buck
We are honored and pleased to publish an interview with Sophie Buck (they/she), a writer, artist and content creator based in Brighton, UK. They go by @BusyBeingDisabled online, highlighting life being chronically ill, neurodivergent and an ambulatory wheelchair user. They have written for publications such as Vogue Italia, Novara Media and Able Zine. They are particularly interested in disability inclusion, sustainability and the arts, and are about to start a masters in AI at the University of Sussex.
The interview was performed by email, in mid-tune 2024. It consists of 6 questions and a conclusion. Let's get started!

1. How important is cultural life for you, and how do you participate in it?

Cultural life is extremely important to me. I find it essential for trying to understand who we are and those around us, and appreciate the beauty and complexity of being human. Being largely housebound due to my chronic illnesses, most of the cultural life I participate in is from home, like watching films and listening to albums, which I do most days, and reading when I have the capacity. It can be a hard balance though when sick and disabled: while I sometimes want to escape my difficulties, it’s also hard to not feel seen in the arts.
I love visiting museums, exhibitions and events in person when I am able to, though am restricted to those that are accessible venues and relatively easy to get to by train from Brighton - such as Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, galleries in London like Tate Britain and Tate Modern, and music events like the jazz festival Love Supreme in Lewes. There have been quite a few exciting exhibitions I’ve missed though due to not having capacity, so I loved when during the lockdowns there was a lot of virtual exhibitions (and talks and gigs) available to access online - I “attended” a great one on Steve Haring from my bed.

2. What about exhibitions and museums: How do you decide which venues to visit?

There are a number of factors. Firstly, the venue has to have things on that are of interest to me - it has to be worth the effort and risk factors (like getting ill as I am immunocompromised). Secondly, the venue itself has to have step-free access and be spacious enough to get around in my wheelchair (which I use due to my chronic illnesses). Thirdly, the venue has to be relatively easy and accessible for me to travel to. I prefer to get direct train lines and avoid tubes and buses as they have more access issues and cost me more energy (e.g. I’ve been turned down from buses because parents with buggies have wrongly been given priority over my wheelchair, and much of London’s underground system is unaccessible, high-risk and stressful to use). So, in my closest “big city”, London, the galleries and museums I tend to visit are those around London Bridge, like the Tate Modern or Barbican, or those within wheeling distance of Victoria, like the Natural History Museum and the Royal Academy, usually at off-peak times. I’d love to visit smaller venues too, but they unfortunately often have a step to enter, no space to manoeuvre and little in the way of access offerings. Lastly, for specific exhibitions, price is also a factor as I’m on a low income due to my chronic illnesses that limit my ability to work, so disabled concession prices are important as are PA tickets.

3. Do you visit museums more at home or more when you travel?

I’ve visited most of the “main” museums and galleries in London at least once now, so when “at home” (in the UK) I’ll tend to seek out specific exhibitions, though museums and galleries are also regularly updating their collections. I have a Tate card at the moment, so am trying to make the most of that in particular. When I’m away though, I’ll always make a point of visiting at least one museum or gallery - partly because it’s a similar format place-to-place and thus a “safe” (familiar) activity and something I can do alone and quietly, but also because it helps me get under the skin of a place and understand life there. Before I got sick, I used to travel a lot for work, from San Francisco to Singapore, so I used to get to visit galleries and exhibitions across the globe regularly, whereas now it’s more sporadic and limited but still something I enjoy. I love seeing “new” things outside my regular circles.

4. What is a “must-have” for a museum so you visit it? Is this different from other people with different abilities?

I use a wheelchair, am chronically ill (particularly energy-limited) and neurodivergent. So, for me, there has to be lifts and step-free access. There has to be space for me to get around in my electric wheelchair - there can’t be a risk of me knocking valuable items over! I also find it disheartening when there’s interactive pieces but they don’t fit a wheelchair though, so consideration of wheelchair users in the artwork is also important. There has to be a lot of natural light or at least soft lighting as I find fluorescent lighting overhead painful sensory-wise. It also has to be spacious and ideally not to packed, both so I can get around safely, but also so it’s not too overwhelming and there’s less covid risk (masking alone can only do so much). Gluten-free and dairy-free options in the cafe is also a bonus!

5. Would you use a database such as Museum For All to find out about institutions that you want to visit? Why / Why not?

I would, especially when I travel to Europe!

6. What can we improve?

For your website, I’d love options to filter what museums/galleries have in the way of access offerings as in some places the list of participating organisations can be long, or showing access offerings simply with symbols when the places are listed. I’d also love a list of virtual offerings.
Generally for the “Museums for All” movement, I’d love an acknowledgement of the ongoing covid pandemuseu mic, the sick and disabled people who are energy-limited, immunocompromised and/or immunosuppressed most impacted, and how the lack of covid precautions in museum/gallery spaces is a barrier for many people wanting to access the arts (recognising those mask-exempt too). While the covid pandemic could have bought widespread recognition of those immunocompromised and measures to protect each other (like wearing masks in public spaces like transport, hospitals, supermarkets and museums/galleries, especially if infected), it’s instead normalised eugenics and individualism rather than collectivism. More organisations, especially those disability-centred, need to be talking about this as those most impacted are exhausted.
Lastly, it’s also not just about the access to the museums/galleries, it’s also about the inclusion of sick, disabled, Deaf and neurodivergent artists inside too. Celebrating and encouraging exhibitions that include and, particularly, centre these artists would also be exciting to see.


Disability intersects with other “-isms” like racism and classicism, and I think the movements about giving back cultural items to their rightful country owners (e.g. Benin Bronzes to Nigeria) and also correct and respectful labelling on items (that analyse power dynamics) is all part of making people feel welcome and at home in museums and galleries.

Thank you, Sophie and we will try to integrate your feedback into our work at Museum For All!