It can be very daunting visiting a new place for the first time, particularly if you are on the autism spectrum. Museums are starting to do more to help visitors prepare for a visit as well as offer ‘relaxed hours’ where they can keep the visitor numbers down.
The National Army Museum offered their first relaxed visit called ‘At Ease’ in March. Opening from 8.30am for families with additional needs, they had thought about the museum environment, turning off noisy interactives and offering a quiet room. Staff were also trained in autism awareness and the museum provided sensory backpacks to support visits.
Jonathan a member of the Youth Panel at Ambitious About Autism, a fantastic charity that supports autistic people and their families, went along to visit for the very first time. I asked Jonathan a few questions to see how he got on.
1 – Have you visited the National Army Museum before?
2- What was the journey like? Did you find the museum easy to find?
- Directions on the museum website and link to maps very good but outside signage from Sloane Square station to the museum was limited.
3 – Did they give you visual supports/visual story? Did that help?
- A visual story booklet upon entry along with a museum map and a sheet explaining cafe, toilet and sensory relaxation room were very useful.
- Staff were friendly and informative and happy to answer any questions. They also provided a sensory backpack with various items but this seemed to be more for younger visitors.
- All exhibits had visual/audio descriptions and warnings to prepare the visitor about noise level.
- Some but not all videos were accompanied by BSL commentary.
4 – What did you like inside the building? OR What was your favourite object / part of the exhibition?
- Modern, clean and spacious/good accessibility, plenty of toilet and baggage storage facilities and elevators for those not able to manage stairs.
- I enjoyed interactive displays rather than having to take in too much written text. Having said this the museum seemed to be good at focusing on interactive rather than bombarding the visitor with too much to read.
5 – Did you learn something new? What did you learn?
- We learnt a lot about many different battles, important people and dates, artillery, geographical significance and various regiments in the British Army.
6 – Was there something you didn’t like about your visit? (sounds, display, lights)
- No major negatives that we could identify. One display case was missing an item with no explanation why. Otherwise sound, display and lighting were kept ambient.
- When the museum did open at 10am we could certainly tell the difference in noise level from displays that may not have been autism friendly.
- I am not keen on the use of mannequins in displays and find them disturbing but luckily this wasn’t an issue today other than a couple of displays depicting injury and recovery in war which I turned away from.
7 – Was there something the museum could do to make the visit easier for autistic visitors?
- Clearer signage was required about where best to start your tour and which direction to follow i.e.; we got started on our visit and some other people were going the opposite way which led me to think maybe we were looking at exhibits in the wrong order.
8 – Why are early visits with reduced numbers important for autistic visitors?
- Quiet, relaxing, not too busy with other visitors, giving you a chance to move about easily and spend more time studying exhibits.
- You are also experiencing the museum at the same time as other autistic visitors with similar requirements.
9 – Would you visit again?
- Yes would recommend and visit again
10- Do you have any tips for other autistic visitors who want to come to the National Army Museum?
- No tips for other autistic visitors other than the museum is well worth visiting.
Thanks to Jonathan for giving his feedback and sharing his photos from his visit.
The National Army Museum will be running their next relaxed opening on Armed Forces Day on 29th June 2019. This event is free but booking is required. Please visit the website to book https://www.nam.ac.uk/whats-on/ease-early-opening-armed-forces-day-special