In 2016 VocalEyes published a report on the State of Museum Access in which we assessed the provision of access information on the websites of all 1700 accredited UK museums. As we enter 2018, we are preparing to repeat the audit this spring, and publish the State of Museum Access 2018 in the autumn. While the 2016 research mainly focused on access information relevant to blind and partially sighted people, we are broadening the scope in 2018 to record information relevant to a wider range of audiences, using the model developed for our work on the State of Theatre Access 2017, with partner organisations.
Our main finding in 2016 was that 27% – that is 458 museums – had no access information on their website at all: no indication about level access suitable for wheelchair users, no details of accessible resources or events, not even contact information for people with access enquiries.
These 458 museums were effectively excluding around 1 in 5 of the population; 11.9 million disabled UK citizens. Together with disabled visitors from abroad, plus friends and families of disabled people, this represents a significant proportion of a museum’s potential visitors. Exclude them, and a museum loses the associated revenue, and positive reputation that generates increased visitor numbers. The museum would also be failing in what should be a core aim: to serve their local communities and the public beyond.
95% of visitors with access requirements look for accessibility information on a venue before deciding to visit. (Euan’s Guide access survey 2015)
A disabled person considering a visit to a museum may have been prompted to do so by a review, personal recommendation, or the museum’s own marketing; however they – or a companion – will almost certainly check the museum’s website as part of their decision and planning process. In the absence of useful information many will not make the visit, and will be effectively excluded from the museum’s core audience.
This is a call to action for museum staff across the UK. Providing access information online is not expensive or difficult. We have developed Museum Access Information Guidelines, and Visit England and Visit Scotland have launched their own excellent resource (Accessibility Guides). Our team of research volunteers will be starting the new survey this spring.
It’s our belief that disabled people have a right to access, and feel included at every museum in the UK. Please check your museum website, or that of any other museum you know or love. If there is no access information, send them a link to this article and ask them help improve the State of Museum Access 2018.
Matthew Cock, Chief Executive, VocalEyes
Image: Natural History Museum central hall. Photo: Art Fund