Museums are inadvertently contributing to a “disability engagement gap” by not publishing accessibility information on their websites needed by millions of potential visitors, a new report has found.
The State of Museum Access 2018 report found that people with disabilities are less likely to visit a museum if it does not provide this information on its website. Published by VocalEyes (a charity working to increase arts access for blind and visually impaired people), the report recorded whether access information was available on the websites of the 1718 accredited UK museums.
Access information is crucial for many potential visitors with a disability or impairment, as it allows them to plan a visit based on their needs. It could include listing accessible facilities and equipment (such as audio description guides for blind and visually impaired visitors), providing a dedicated accessibility contact, travel information, and highlighting any relevant training that staff have undergone.
State of Museum Access 2018 is a follow-up to a 2016 report, but while the earlier version focused solely on online access information for blind and visually impaired people, the new report covers a range of disabilities and impairments.
VocalEyes Chief Executive Matthew Cock told e-Access Bulletin that the vast majority of museums still think of disability access information as only being relevant to people with mobility impairments. He said: “The access needs and barriers relevant to millions of people with hearing or sight loss – or other conditions that make visiting museums challenging, such as autism and learning disabilities – are ignored by the large majority of museums. It’s a huge shame, because so much can be done for very little cost.”
Although 19% of museums (one in five) provide no access information at all on their websites, this is still an improvement on the figure from the 2016 report, 27%. Despite this, the report notes that “overall, the amount of detail [where access information is provided] is poor”.
As well as highlighting gaps, a key aim of the State of Museum Access report is to help museums improve the situation. This is done through recommendations about the type of information to include on websites (for example: venue accessibility and website accessibility) and advice on communication with potential visitors with a disability (such as creating an effective welcome message or access statement).
The report also asks museums to make the Museum Access Pledge, based on four steps to improve website information for potential visitors with disabilities.
Asked what museums can do to improve on-site access for blind and visually impaired visitors, Matthew Cock said: “Only 20% of museum websites mentioned that they provide large-print labels, something that can be accessed by 75% of partially sighted people and 36% of registered blind people, and are often used by elderly people with poor vision or people with dyslexia. It costs little to produce and maintain such resources. We’d also recommend that front-of-house staff receive training in visual awareness and guiding, so that they are better placed to welcome and support blind and partially sighted people throughout a visit.”
Read more about State of Museum Access 2018 and download the report in full, including a large-print version, at the VocalEyes website.