Providing inclusive and appropriate access to collections, exhibitions and resources is one of the primary goals of a museum or gallery. It is quite common for organisations to focus on the physical aspects of access – getting into and moving around the building and not realise how much broader barriers to access can be.
Improving access across a broad range of issues will create a more welcoming environment and lead to greater and more diverse visitation.
Barriers to access can be divided into the following categories:
Physical and sensory
Considerations include the needs of those using wheelchairs, parents with prams, as well as elderly and frail people. Major sensory issues to consider are related to visual and hearing impairment. In addition to providing large print material the overall level of sound and video material should be considered to avoid acoustic “overload”.
Being aware of the needs and sensitivities of the diverse cultural groups which make up our communities improves the museum experience and leads to more inclusive approaches to collecting and exhibiting.
Museums and galleries can become unwelcoming and irrelevant to many groups in the community if they ignore the needs of those outside the financial, educational or age brackets identified as the ‘typical visitor’. Choosing inclusive exhibition topics, a range of items for display and providing an open and accessible story is critical in appealing to a wide audience and increasing potential visitors.
Using complicated language and explanation on labels and signage can prevent people with intellectual disabilities from engaging with your material. Provide a range of ways and different labelling so that your exhibitions will satisfy a variety of needs.
Providing a welcoming, friendly and safe environment is a key component to museum success. This applies not just to front-of-house staff and on the floor volunteers but to donors, researchers and others who engage with your organisation.
Developing mechanisms for equitable charges for entry and program attendance can broaden the type of visitor coming to your organisation.
Physical and sensory possible solutions
Public transport and vehicle access
- Find out the nearest public transport stop to your location and what sort of disabled access they provide
- Provide information in brochures and on your website including type of public transport, general hours of operation, timing between services and distance from the transport stop to your site (mention if it is a flat route or not)
- Provide information about car parking on site or nearby including any associated costs, disability car parking spaces and the distance to the entrance
- Ensure the entrance is easy to locate through appropriate signage etc.
- Include information about disabled access in entrance signage, brochures and on your website. In particular, directions for vehicles such as which entrance to use and how close to the entrance vehicles can come
- If there are steps, can you fit a ramp or provide an alternative dignified entry point for people with physical disabilities?
Signage including labels and wall panels
- Use large, clear fonts such as Arial or Helvetica
- Where possible position signage at eye level (signs at floor level are difficult to read with bifocal glasses)
- Provide large print versions of your labels and interpretive panels. Large print labels can be easily and cheaply produced by photocopying original material at enlarged sizes.
- Provide transcripts or text descriptions of recordings
- Provide audio description of visual material
- Talk to organisations such as Technical Aids for the Disabled about the preparation of multimedia material for people with disabilities
Access to upper floors
Installing lifts can be expensive however, it’s possible to ‘bring the upstairs down’ through:
- Providing large format photos of the inaccessible rooms .
- Bringing some small exhibition items down for visitors (if appropriate – taking into account the condition of the object).
- Developing a video or interactive about the inaccessible rooms.
Ease of circulation throughout the display space
- This can be difficult where there are small rooms such as in a house museum. In larger settings you may need to consider rest spots
- Ensure there a clear paths for visitors to move through spaces
- Consider how wheelchairs, prams and walking frames are able to move through spaces. If you have tight areas you may need to have photos of exhibits or guides who can bring small items to visitors (if appropriate – taking into account the condition of the object)
- Websites can be useful in assisting visitors in preparing for a visit to your museum/gallery
- Ensure that your website is accessible by complying with the international web accessibility guidelines. An introduction to the guidelines can be found at: www.w3.org
- Further information is available through Vision Australia www.visionaustralia.org
- Disabled toilets and facilities for carers with young children (such as a change table or a quiet space to feed a baby) will make your museum/gallery more accessible to all.
- For some smaller museums this is difficult to provide on-site. If so, consider negotiating with a nearby business or organisation so that you can direct visitors to an appropriate facility.
You may also like:
Accessible Arts, Resources
Museums Australia, Continuous Cultures, Ongoing Responsibilities (2005)
Shar Jones, Community, Culture and Place (2000)