A major barrier to disabled people visiting museums is the lack of advance information. Museum websites are key tools for providing visitor access information, and the absence of this contributes to the ‘disability engagement gap’; where people with a disability are less likely to be regular or frequent visitors of museums than those who are not disabled.
Many families with autistic members find it difficult to visit museums, but the reasons for that can vary hugely. A great first place to start when planning a visit is the museum website. It is vital that museums not only provide as much information as possible to support potential visitors but also start with a warm welcome.
Within the report there is a specific section on supporting autistic visitors with advice, links and tips for making your museum more accessible.
The State of Museum Access 2018 comprises guidance to help museums create or review the information that they provide online, in order to:
- welcome potential visitors with disabilities
- inform visitors of any barriers to access at the museum
- reassure visitors that the museum has worked or is actively working to remove them
Our audit of the websites of UK accredited museums found that one in five (19%) failed to provide any access information online. While this indicates an improvement from 2016 when the figure was 27%, our research also revealed that the level of detail provided is generally very poor. The majority of museums provide basic information for people with mobility impairment only; which does not address the access needs of millions of UK citizens and potential visitors, their families and friends.
To support museums to become more inclusive to all visitors the State of Museum Access 2018 contains comprehensive guidelines on: the types of access information a museum should provide; how to communicate with potential disabled visitors; providing information in a range of accessible formats; developing staff disability awareness; and providing detailed information about how to reach the museum.
Five audience groups are addressed within the report – autistic people and people with a learning disability, blind and partially sighted people, D/deaf and hard of hearing people, people with dementia, people with mobility impairments – which together form a large proportion of disabled people. For each audience group we recommend the particular information, resources, facilities and accessible events that a museum can provide to welcome and support them.
Furthermore there are tips on setting up an access panel or disability advisory group, which can help a museum to best address visitor needs when developing both on site and online provision.
Finally, we present an access showcase, celebrating good practice at museums across the UK, with links to over 50 organisations’ websites, which we hope will inform and inspire.
We encourage museums to make the Museum Access Pledge (#MuseumAccessPledge) to close the disability engagement gap, and ensure everyone is welcome at the UK’s museums, galleries and heritage sites.
‘We are a museum that aims to provide access for all visitors and welcome the publication of the State of Museum Access 2018 report. The greatest barrier for disabled people visiting our cultural institutions is the lack of relevant access information on facilities and services. This report gives practical guidance on how to provide information which will greatly benefit organisations in becoming more accessible and enabling disabled people to embrace our cultural institutions.’ Barry Ginley, Equality and Access Adviser, Victoria & Albert Museum
‘Accentuate fully supports the launch of this important report. Through our work with the History of Place project we have collaborated with a range of Museums as we believe that deaf and disabled people have a right to access heritage and culture. This report gives an excellent overview of what is working well in the sector as well as practical advice and guidance so museums and heritage sites can improve their offer. By working together we can ensure more deaf and disabled people have better access to our shared heritage.’ Esther Fox, Head of Accentuate Programme, Screen South
The Disability Co-operative Network for Museums warmly welcomes the State of Museum Access 2018 report. We commend each and every museum and heritage organisation who like us and our colleagues are working collaboratively in creating inclusive practice to widen engagement with their history and heritage. At this present time with reduction in staff and funding, it’s critical that museums and the sector look for opportunity to extend engagement and work together. Becki Morris, Lead of DCN
State of Museum Access 2018 is available to download in PDF and Large Print format (text-only) at the end of this page.
Notes for editors
The report authors are:
- Matthew Cock, Chief Executive, VocalEyes
- Molly Bretton, Access Manager, Royal Academy
- Richard France, Subtitling Services Manager, Stagetext
- Anna Fineman, Museum and Heritage Programme Manager, VocalEyes
- Claire Madge, Founder, Autism in Museums
- Melanie Sharpe, Chief Executive, Stagetext
For enquiries about the report, please contact Matthew Cock (firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7375 1043) in the first instance.
VocalEyes believes that blind and partially sighted people have an equal right to experience and enjoy arts and culture. Founded in 1998, VocalEyes’ audio describers and trainers work with theatres and museums across the UK to improve access to their performances, events, exhibitions and venues. VocalEyes is a National Portfolio Organisation of Arts Council England. VocalEyes’ museum programme is also generously supported by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.
Stagetext is a registered charity which provides captioning and live subtitling services to theatres, museums and other arts venues to make their activities accessible to people who are d/Deaf, deafened or hard of hearing. Established in 2000, Stagetext are committed to improving access to the performing arts for all deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people. Stagetext is a National Portfolio Organisation of Arts Council England.
Autism in Museums (autisminmuseums.com)
Autism in Museums is an initiative to raise awareness of accessibility for all in museums. It has been created by Claire Madge who had been sharing autism in museums best practice and events
on her blog Tincture of Museum since 2012.
Image: Colourful sensory backpacks available to borrow for free for autistic children and young people at the National Museum of Scotland.