People with disabilities: visiting places of interest

Museums, galleries, exhibitions and other places of interest are improving accessibility all the time. This includes the way that exhibits and buildings are presented.

Improving accessibility

Most places of interest have websites which detail a building's accessibility and any special equipment available. You can also find out about tours, lectures and workshops for people of all ages and abilities.

Over recent years, changes to procedures, practices and physical access to buildings have been made. Also, new ways of making information accessible for people with disabilities are constantly evolving.

Places are also starting to include the needs of users with dyslexia in their planning and the way they display and promote their collections.

Blind or visually impaired visitors

Places may offer accessories and aids, including large print leaflets, magnifying glasses and audio guides.

Tours and guides

Many places, especially larger museums and galleries, often give tours for blind or visually impaired visitors. You may be able to arrange a 'one-to-one' tour or go as part of a group, normally they need several days' notice.

A big part of these tours is the opportunity to touch exhibits. Some larger places may focus on one particular work of art or exhibit and involve a group discussion with other visitors.

Audio guides

It's fairly common to have access to audio guides, normally a portable CD player. Some guides are tailored specifically for blind or visually impaired visitors. As well as information about exhibits they may also explain the layout of the building to help you find your way around.

Tactile pictures and diagrams

Tactile pictures can be extremely useful aids to understand an object, whether 2D or 3D. They can give an overall impression of the shape and contours of an object or the composition of a painting.

The Dog Rose Trust works with museums and galleries to explore the use of tactile exhibits and plans. The website has a list of sensory and audio pieces of art and notable buildings.

Deaf or hearing impaired visitors

In many cases, information can be sourced via email, brochures or websites. Booking tickets via email may also be possible.

Websites usually have a section that details what facilities are available for deaf or hearing-impaired visitors, for example, induction loops.

Lectures, talks and events

Check to find out if guided tours include portable induction loop or sound enhancement systems. Also ask if events are in British Sign Language (BSL) or interpreted into BSL.

It is unlikely that most museums or galleries are able to support every event with a sign language interpreter. You may instead be offered a selection of talks which will be sign language interpreted. It may also be possible for the organisation to arrange for an interpreter if you give them notice that you plan to go.

Some events may include pre-prepared notes on the planned talk.

Subtitles or captions

Subtitles or captions may be used when audio-visual equipment is used.

Some lectures or talks may be supported by a palantypist. This is someone who types every word that is spoken which then appears on a computer screen. This is known as speech to text transcription.

Alternatively, a summary of what is being said may be available instead.

Visitors with a learning disability

Some people with severe learning disabilities have additional sensory, communication and mobility impairments.

Most large museums, galleries and buildings have visual and tactile signs and easily understood symbols.

Routes should be clearly marked with easy identification of what each room in the building is for, with clear ways in and out.

Tours and guides

Many places, especially larger museums and galleries, often give tours for people who have a learning disability. This may include a short introductory talk about the museum or gallery in plain English. This may be delivered via an audio-guide.

An audio guide, normally a portable CD or audiotape player, can also help people with dyslexia or who are not confident readers. People whose first language is not English may also find audio guides helpful.

You may be able to arrange a 'one-to-one' tour or go as part of a group. Normally they need several days' notice. Places sometimes run interactive workshops.

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