Most museums and galleries are keen to improve access to their sites for everyone, including those living with disabilities.
There are several simple ways to improve the experience of potential visitors and, increasingly, most start a visit online. A website or social media account can be a great starting point to share information, including about potential barriers, and to reassure visitors about what they may or may not experience. An accessibility guide can offer a general overview of the site and help visitors who use a wheelchair or who have additional needs to make decisions in advance.
A helpful source of information can be found here: The State of Museum Access 2018 report which comprises guidance to help museums create or review the information that they provide online, in order to:
Welcoming visitors from the autistic and neuro-diverse community
Museums can be a fantastic place for everyone, including those living with autism or who identify as neuro-diverse. While it’s important not to generalise, a few simple adaptations can make our sites more welcoming.
Many places now choose to offer regular ‘early or ‘late’ opening opportunities, where regular opening hours are extended. This means people can make the most of places outside busier times: crowded and noisy environments can act as triggers for some people living with autism. Some museums choose to switch off potentially stimulating audio-visual media sources and designate a ‘quiet’ space for visitors to take time out if necessary.
If this isn’t feasible, there are still ways to be welcoming. Autism in Museums website suggests that;
“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.”
Through the website or via social media it is possible to give potential visitors a snapshot of what they might expect to see; ‘visual’ or ‘social’ stories are simple which provide a virtual tour of the building, preparing visitors for the sights, sounds and even smells of the museum! These can be downloaded in advance and used by visitors to prepare for what they might encounter.
Attached are examples of social stories for The Royal Cornwall Museum which could be adapted for use at any site by observing the principals of using clear, simple language accompanying an image where possible. The ‘easy read’ version recognises that people have different abilities and is helpful regardless of age: it offers a simplified version of the same key information.
In addition, a sensory map of a museum can help prepare visitors for areas which they might find highly stimulating or alert them to areas they may want to avoid, as well as highlighting areas which could be calming.
Vocal Eyes have produced a comprehensive guide to improving access for museums which, while specifically catering for those with additional needs around sight, includes excellent advice about becoming more inclusive generally.
Sensory pack ideas
Many museums and galleries now offer simple resources to help those living with autism to get the most out of their visit. These needn’t be expensive and can be easily resourced.
A good starting point is a simple, lightweight bag; these can help contain items and allow them to be easily transported by whoever is using them around the site. Ear defenders are a popular choice for adults and children who can find noisy sites over-stimulating.
*Edz Kidz ear defenders
*Image taken from Spacekraft; tactile sensory bag
Fiddle-toys, light or colour adjusting glasses or panels, fidget-spinners or finger torches: all or any can make for good sensory backpack contents. Euan’s Guide, a website dedicated to making access for all easier, offers a fantastic guide to making a sensory backpack here. Once you have made adjustments to your museum site you can then list it on Euan’s Guide and await reviews!
The most important thing any museum or gallery can do it to make people, irrespective of their needs, feel welcome. No where is perfect and many sites are lacking facilities, but a warm welcome is a great starting point.