Henshaws and MADE: Gallery Accessibility Top Tips
Alice Pennington, Digital Communications Officer at Henshaws Specialist College, introduces our new collaboration.
“As a blind person, my ambition is for our voices to be heard, and for our ideas to be taken into account. This is the first of hopefully many opportunities where we can express our opinions and maybe have a say in what could be improvements for museums in future.”
In May and June 2021, MADE and Henshaws ran a project with children and young people who came up with their top tips for how museums and galleries could be made more accessible to those with vision impairments.
Read on to find out more about the project and the tips shared by the children and young people.
As an organisation, MADE want all young people to thrive through access to the arts, and when Henshaws invited us to join a forum for vision impaired young people to discuss access to cultural activities and venues, we were really keen to hear what these young people had to say.
We worked with Henshaws to put together a video in which these young people shared their experiences of visiting museums, and their top tips for making venues more accessible. Their tips are realistic, focusing on solutions that don’t require venues to make much structural change, whilst also considering the varying needs of the young people, who all had different levels of vision and different ideas.
Alongside the film, the children and young people visited two museums: The National Football Museum and People’s History Museum, discovering accessibility features hands-on. One of the young people involved had never visited a museum before due to their concerns about accessibility, and all the young people felt a real sense of empowerment when sharing their ideas.
As well as giving young people a platform to share their views with venues, we want this project to encourage other vision impaired young people to visit their local cultural venues. We hope the video will give young people ideas of the sorts of questions to ask before and during a visit to a museum or gallery, especially in relation to accessibility.
Young People’s Top Tips
Below are just some of tips from the young people we worked with:
1. Make all exhibits multi-sensory — “I’d like things to touch because everything just seems to be behind glass, so it’s very hard for me to know what’s there.”
2. Provide audio description of attractions — “If you had a speaker attached to it and a button which someone could press, you could have someone speaking about the exhibit, telling you what it looks like and some history about it.”
3. Provide written guides in multiple formats — “Provide it in loads of formats because some people can see large print but others need Braille. Sometimes the writing is so small, you just can’t see it in the museum.”
4. Use contrasting colours — “If it’s a yellow sign on a green door, I probably wouldn’t be able to see the sign. Any dark colours mixed with black, or white colours mixed with green, I wouldn’t be able to see any of them.”
5. Offer sighted guides or tours — “I would like someone to describe everything to me so I understand what’s going on. A sighted guide would really help.”
6. Ask us, then implement our feedback
Some other comments the young people had:
1. For going downstairs, maybe put a yellow strip of tape at the bottom to indicate where the bottom is.
2. Have replicas of artefacts that you cannot touch.
3. Ensure the museum’s website is compatible with screen readers.
A big thank you to Henshaws and to all the young people involved for their enthusiasm and their ideas. We hope cultural venues will watch the video and adopt these strategies to make their spaces accessible to more people.