Central Hall of the Natural History Museum

State of Museum Access Report 2016

There are many examples across the UK of museums, galleries and heritage sites welcoming and providing good opportunities for blind and partially sighted and other disabled visitors to experience their venue and collections. Indeed, UK museums are recognised among the most accessible of all public buildings. A range of museums across the country from the nationals to smaller local and independent museums and heritage sites offer resources and public programming include audio-described tours, handling sessions, Large Print and braille labels, tactile maps and drawings. Above all, many venues have staff trained  to welcome, guide and support blind and partially sighted visitors.

However, the report we are publishing today reveals that this is only true of a small proportion of museums, with many appearing to take no steps to welcome or provide access information or resources for blind and partially sighted people.  As a result, these museums will be losing visitors, revenue and reputation, and are potentially in breach of the Equality Act 2010, that requires organisations to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled people can access their buildings and services.

Some key figures from the report:

  • 27% of UK museums provide no access information on their website for disabled visitors planning a visit.
  • Only 30% of UK museums provide information on their website that would be useful for a blind or partially-sighted person planning a visit.
  • Only 18% of museums publicise labels or information for their exhibits in Large Print.
  • Only 10% of museums publicise live audio-described tours / handling sessions for blind and partially sighted visitors.
  • Only 5% are taking advantage of websites that provide detailed access audits such as DisabledGo.com and Euans’ Guide.

For too many museums, access information for blind and partially sighted people consists of a solitary message welcoming guide dogs. For every guide dogs owner in the UK, there are around 75 other registered blind or partially sighted people who do not use a guide dog, and for whom information about the resources and events identified above would be most welcome. Evidence shows that online access information is a key factor in the decision-making process for disabled visitors, and that many will not visit if access information is absent.

The Report breaks the data down for Scotland, Wales Northern Ireland and the the English regions, as well as for categories of museum (independent, local authority, university, military, national museums, and heritage sites).

“It’s very disappointing to see the low priority given to disabled customers. We should be able to enjoy the richness of art and heritage, alongside other citizens. Galleries, Museums and heritage sites should be building accessibility into their everyday customer service. Adjustments made for disabled people will benefit everyone.”

Fazilet Hadi, Director of Engagement at RNIB and VocalEyes Trustee.


 “Museums are amazing national resources – they encapsulate our history and culture, providing an incredible opportunity for people to reflect on our collective past and take learnings that can inspire a better future. But that opportunity must be available to all, irrespective of their background and circumstance. We hope that VocalEyes’ report will serve as a catalyst for change, driving more museums across the country to facilitate access for all of their audiences.”

John-Orna Ornstein, Director, Museums and South East, Arts Council England


‘The Museums Association welcomes this report and is committed to championing access for all visitors. It is troubling that museums are still not providing all the information that blind and partially sighted visitors need to be able to get the best out of their visit. Museums and galleries should be actively promoting information and the services that they provide so that all visitors feel welcome. It’s great that VocalEyes has produced guidance to accompany the report so that museums can provide the high quality access information that encourages engagement and participation.’

Sharon Heal, Director, Museums Association, and VocalEyes Trustee.


Download the report and guidelines to help museums improve the quality of their information for disabled visitors

State of Museum Access 2016 (PDF)

State of Museum Access 2016 (Word, text only, Arial 16 pt)

Museum Access Information Guidelines 2016 (PDF)

Museum Access Information Guidelines 2016 (Word, text only Arial 16 pt)

Notes for Editors

There are 11.9 million  disabled people in the UK. That’s around 19% of the population, nearly 1 in 5 people. Around 2 million people in the UK have significant sight loss. That’s 3% of the population, around 1 in 32 people. These figures will increase with population ageing, and by 2050 the number with a visual impairment will have doubled, to 4 million people. (Figures from Papworth Trust and RNIB)

The 2015 Access Survey carried out for Disabled Access Day and Euan’s Guide, museums and art galleries scored equal first with hospitals and healthcare,  when respondents were asked which of 13 categories would they rate as having ‘poor’ or ‘good’ accessibility. 17% of respondents rated museums and art galleries as ‘poor’ and 59% as ‘good’, compared to 22% and 55% for cinemas and theatres, and 29% and 26% for concert halls and live music venues.

VocalEyes is a UK registered charity (1067245). We believe that blind and partially sighted people should have the best opportunities to experience and enjoy art and heritage. VocalEyes provides audio description, training and access consultancy for theatres, museums, galleries, heritage sites, and the built environment.

For further information, contact Matthew Cock, Chief Executive | [email protected] | 020 7375 1043

Anna Fineman, Museums, Galleries and Heritage Programme Manager | [email protected] | 020 7375 1043


Image: Hintze Hall, Natural History Museum, London. Access and audience diversity is a core value of the NHM. You can download recorded audio descriptions of the NHM’s galleries. Photo: Art Fund.