Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Museum Accessibility

An M+H Advisor case study: Touching the Prado: a hands on approach to accessibility. Source: M+H Advisor.

Adrian Murphy, Accessibility in museums: creating a barrier-free cultural landscape, Museums + Heritage Advisor, 12 October 2015

Accessibility to museums and their collections is a pursuit that is taken seriously by the majority of institutions. But are they getting it right and what new initiatives are being set up to improve things?

Here M+H Advisor provides six case studies where museums and heritage attractions have furthered their accessibility offer and successfully made themselves more inclusive. These include the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, which was the recipient of a Jodi Award this year, Euan’s Guide, an online resource written by and for disabled people, Museo Del Prado’s Touching the Prado exhibition that has reconstructed six masterpieces for blind visitors to touch, a Dementia Toolkit from Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery, a research project on iBeacon technology and its potential for people with disabilities from the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester and how the National Trust is transforming some 200 of the country’s oldest buildings into accessible visitor attractions.

According to the 2011 census there are 9.4 million disabled people in England, accounting for 18 per cent of the population. This year saw English Tourism Week hold its first ever industry conference on accessible tourism to inspire businesses to embrace the purple pound, – the spending power of those with access needs – which accounts for £12.4bn a year. So for museums not to be accessible is not only excluding nearly a fifth of the population but potentially missing out on much-needed revenue.

“What constitutes a ‘reasonable adjustment’ to accessibility shouldn’t be a term that strikes fear into the Finance Officer at the attraction,” says Matt Riley director of Visits Unlimited, which provides training on accessibility for many organisations including VisitEngland. “This term is often mistakenly associated solely with the need to invest significant budget into a capital project to install a lift.” Riley says that investing in replica artefacts to handle for the kinaesthetic learner (and visually impaired visitors use their hands to see) could be a good start. Then, developing learning resources with inclusion in mind such as training employees as a pair of helping hands if required or perhaps as trained guides for visually impaired visitors as well as hearing loops and appropriate signage. “There are so many low cost reasonable adjustments or quick fixes,” he says. “It is estimated that only six per cent of disabled visitors are permanent wheelchair users. You can be accessible though physical access barriers exist.”

So what Riley is saying is that a positive attitude can make a big difference to how a museum presents itself to the disabled visitor. When Visits Unlimited asked families through social media what are the biggest barriers faced when making a visit to a museum or heritage attraction they said: “Poor attitude in understanding.”

Read more here.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2021
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