Challenging museum access practice

As someone with poor sight, I am always intrigued to see what provision museums make for blind and partially sighted visitors.

It is a strangely overlooked area – most services manage to provide Large Print captions, but there is still a lot of work to be done around providing handling materials, tactile interpretation and the navigation of darkened exhibition spaces.  On one occasion, my negligible depth-perception meant that I nearly pitched headfirst down a very stylish but completely unreadable flight of ash-wood stairs that had no contrasting colour-stripe on the steps. My ‘favourite’ experience, admittedly 10 years ago, when asking at a museum reception desk about the prize-winning special trail advertised on their website, was to be asked “Just how BAD is your eyesight?” before being given a water bowl for my (non-existent) guide-dog.

So I admit that it is a bit depressing to read in the VocalEyes State of Museum Access Report 2016 published today, that, in 2016, for too many museums, website access information for blind and partially sighted people consists of a solitary message welcoming guide dogs.  As VocalEyes point out, it might be useful to note that for every guide-dog owner in the UK, there are around 75 registered blind or partially sighted people who do not use a guide dog, and for whom information about resources and events at the museum would be a welcome and necessary prerequisite for a visit.

The State of Museum Access Report 2016 shares the results of an accessibility audit of the websites of all 1600 accredited UK Museums.  The report breaks the data down for Scotland, Wales Northern Ireland and the English regions, as well as for categories of museum (independent, local authority, university, military, national museums, and heritage sites), and is very valuable reading for us all.

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. With that in mind, some of the key findings from the report should give us pause for thought:

  • 27% of UK museum websites audited provide no access information for disabled visitors planning a visit
  • Only 30% of UK museum websites provide information that would be useful for a blind or partially-sighted person planning a visit
  • Only 18% of museums publicise the fact that labelling or information about their exhibits is available in Large Print.
  • Only 10% of museums advertise that they offer 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, a site offering Disabled Access Reviews by disabled people for disabled people

An element I find really interesting here is how few museums advertise on their websites the access resources they do actually offer. Many of the museums I have worked with over the years have invested time in providing Large Print captions or handling sessions for the public at large.  Some have even trained their staff in audio description.  But the number who don’t actually advertise the fact in their publicity material means that very few blind or partially-sighted visitors take up the offer and these access services lapse into disuse.

So – two take home actions here people –

  1. Check out and implement the good practice guidelines that VocalEyes helpfully provide to help museums move towards far better practice in accessible web, digital marketing and social media
  2. TELL THE WORLD YOU DO IT!
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(Re)Drafting the elevator pitch

savoy liftThis morning, half way through a conversation with a print salesman about my order of training booklets, I was hit broadside by The Question.

‘So what do you do?’

Wah! Caught unawares, my careful ‘elevator pitch’, the succinct description of my key professional motivations, actions and finer features, completely deserted me.  I mumbled something about ‘engaging’, ‘increasing communication’ and generally sharing the cultural heritage joy.

Hmmm.

After a pause, the salesman said ‘well, I am sure that it very useful to people in your field’.  Ouch, damned, and not even with faint praise.

It made me reflect on how easily we forget how we sound to the people we work alongside but who don’t know us or what we do. And on how, if I really am working to help museums and heritage organisations to relate better to their audiences, I need to make sure that non-sector colleagues, friends and family understand that too.

My elevator pitch has the potential not only to get me work, but also to introduce the cultural organisations I work with to people who previously hadn’t heard of them.  After all, every conversation can be a doorway to another. But by being vague or unclear or by using too much jargon, what we say can slam that conversational door tight shut.

Later this afternoon, quite unprompted, a Facebook friend asked me the same question. So I decided to re-draft my elevator pitch…

There’s all sorts of advice about this online, some of it incomprehensible or frankly terrifying, but I like this one from BizGym, which helps you make it sound like a natural sentence rather than a ferocious tongue-twister.

ElevatorPitch

So, gentle reader, here goes:

Hi!  I’m Jenni Waugh, from Jenni Waugh Consulting.
My company helps museums to communicate better and to more people about the great stuff they do through digital and personal development activity that is affordable and tailored to suit their needs.

Better? I think so.

But not yet perfect.  As ever, I remain a work in progress…

How’s your elevator pitch coming along?