Access: Top Tips for Museums and Galleries

Based on original text by Euan’s Guide, published 2015. Adapted 2017 by Museums Galleries Scotland, with thanks to Euan’s Guide

In a project inspired by Talking Newspapers for visually impaired people, John Gray Centre created a Talking Museum to describe their main exhibition to visitors in a handheld audio guide.

 

For those taking part in Festival of Museums, you may have noticed that our accessibility questions for registration had changed. We asked for additional information based on Euan’s Guide to help disabled visitors make choices based on facilities. However, there seemed to be a lot of confusion about what these newer terms meant (we could tell because there were a lot of museums who said they had Changing Places toilets, but the national register of these said they didn’t). It is with this in mind that we think now would be a good time to have a refresher on disability access, terminology and what you can do to improve.

Promoting equality of access in museums goes beyond compliance: it is the right thing to do. We all know that we should have ramps at the entrance of museum buildings, but Euan’s Guide reviewers (disabled people and their friends and family) compiled the top tips for things you may not have thought about to make museum visits more accessible to them, beyond getting in the front door…

  1. Touch tours are not just about letting visitors touch the exhibits, sometimes this won’t be appropriate. A popular approach is to build a separate 3D model of the objects for visitors to feel and explore.
  1. Space is very important for wheelchair users to enable them to manoeuvre. It’s great to have a space beneath display tables to make it easier for wheelchair users to get closer.
  1. Lighting: Keeping objects protected from light exposure is important in terms of conservation but can make it difficult for visitors with visual impairments to view artefacts. London Canal Museum has a great solution! Next to low lighting exhibits, there’s a button which increases the light for 30 seconds, perfectly balancing conservation with accessibility.
  1. Self-guided tours allow visitors to explore at their own pace. The Royal Yacht Britannia has a self-guided tour in BSL and Talking Museums audio tours at the John Gray Centre are examples of positive approaches to access.
  1. Bigger lifts are better.Often disabled people travel with a carer, may use a larger wheelchair or be accompanied by medical equipment. This combined with a elderly visitors or prams can lead to congestion. One of Euan’s Guide’s favourite lifts (at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery) is large enough to carry a small car! Remember, where you have specialist equipment check it is working on a regular basis.
  1. Autism friendly viewings are easy to set up. Simple steps like advising when your museum is quietest, adjusting your lighting and audio levels, and training staff can make everyone feel welcome. Staff familiar with Makaton/Signalong will be helpful for engaging children with non-verbal ASD. Read Euan’s Guide’s blog on what the Royal Air Force Museum did to get an Autism Access Award from the National Autistic Society.
  1. Water bowls are a thoughtful way to let guide/assistance dogs freshen up (remember they’ll need an outdoor space to relieve themselves!). Bear in mind that guide/assistance dog owners have important rights under the Equality Act 2010. Guide/assistance dogs are allowed into almost all public places when accompanied by their owners.
  1. Information should be available in alternative formats. Some can be created easily, like large print, and others may require external assistance, like Braille. Take a look at everything your venue has from leaflets to signage. Are audio versions of leaflets available? Do you have large print versions of menus in the café? Is there a BSL video which welcomes visitors to your museum? Remember prior accessibility of visitor information, including details about car parking and toilets.
  1. Signage: On arrival, signage is really important to help people navigate through your building. Signs should be high contrast text with clear instructions. Don’t forget to place signs intended for wheelchair users in places that are visible from a seated position. Is the exit clearly signposted? Are accessible evacuation routes signposted? Remember your interpretation panels, and make writing clear and legible.
  1. Toilets: Not glamorous, but these are often a deciding factor when people are researching places to visit. For best practice, see Changing Places Toilets. If you don’t have this, simple adjustments can make a huge difference. For example, removing oversized bins and other non-essentials will increase the amount of space wheelchair users have to manoeuvre.

The benefits of investing in access

Did you know that 78% of disabled people make repeat visits to venues with good accessibility? But, even if you have the best accessible facilities in the world, they aren’t much use if you don’t tell people about them! 95% of disabled people will search for access information online before visiting a venue for the first time. Listing on Euan’s Guide is a great way to let visitors know what to expect from your venue.

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