Alison's training is in cognitive psychology and her work applies a cognitive lens to visitor experience and audience engagement in museums and the cultural sector more broadly, with a focus on diversity, inclusion and broadening participation. Her PhD research explored imagination and imagery in the blind and sighted. During her first postdoctoral position, based at the University of Laval in Canada, Alison worked within an international interdisciplinary team of researchers exploring mental representation and movement in people with a disability. Her second postdoc at Birkbeck examined spatial representation using EEG. She now applies both psychological theory and mixed empirically grounded quantitative and qualitative research methods to the interdisciplinary exploration of the nature of the museum experience. She has used cognitive psychology to unpick the bias of the typically sighted majority in society, that often result in a privileging of visual information both within and outside the museum setting. Within this, she is challenging the assumption that just because you have vision, you have full access to the contents and experiences within a museum. She is doing this in three ways, firstly by exploring the ways in which access tools (such as audio description) can enhance the experience for all museum audiences, with or without a disability. Secondly, she is exploring the ways in personal or co-created museum interpretation can diversify the narratives and interpretation within the museum setting. Thirdly, Alison is exploring how museums might better understand and serve their local communities by exploring the relationship between belonging, community and cultural heritage. She is looking at the ways in which communities share their place-based cultural identity and heritage, in order to understand how museums might work with their communities to empower and strengthen that process. She is a Fulbright-Smithsonian Scholar (2021–22).
Her sector partnerships have included: VocalEyes, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum, Smartify, the Watts Gallery, Qatar Museums, the Museum of London.
Alison has been on BBC Radio 4's All in the Mind discussing the teaching and appreciation of art for blind and partially blind people.
Museum experience, Access, Museum impact, Multisensory processing, Spatial perception and spatial attention, Mental representation