One of my favourite places to visit has always been museums. However, I am aware that museums can be quite inaccessible for autistic people to visit. So the fifth blog in my ‘Autism Review’ series will focus on my recent visit to Leeds City Museum.
Before you visit:
There is a wealth of information available on the website (www.museumsandgalleries.leeds.gov.uk/leeds-city-museum/visit-leeds-city-museum/#access). This also includes accessibility information for autistic people! There is clear information about:
- How to find the museum
- Where to enter the museum
- A Visual Story to prepare you for your visit
- Museum Floor Plan
- Accessible toilets (including a Changing Places toilet on the 3rd floor)
- Sensory guide
- Orientation video
- Information on resources and the sensory room
I was so pleased to see the huge amount of information available to autistic people and their families. I did notice that the accessibility information was very much directed towards autistic children visiting, I recognise that a lot of families visit the museum but I would have liked to have seen some more information aimed at autistic adults.
During your visit:
When I first arrived at Leeds City Museum, I was approached by one of their Visitor Assistants to explain the different areas of the museum and any information that I would need to know about my visit. Whilst some autistic people may prefer to not be approached in public spaces, I actually found this extremely helpful on my visit. This was the first time I had visited a museum since the start of the pandemic and so I was anxious about it but speaking to this staff member really helped. I also wasn’t immediately approached as soon as I went through the door which gave me some time to adjust to being in the museum.
I found the signage around the museum to sometimes be a little confusing. Due to the current restrictions the ‘Leeds Story’ gallery on the second floor is one way, however I found finding where to go into the gallery difficult at first due to the layout of the museum. There were some signs showing you where you needed to go but they didn’t follow the same style of branding which meant they weren’t obvious.
The galleries are all spacious meaning that you have lots of space to move around the exhibits without feeling like you are closed in. The one exception for this is in the ‘Ancient Worlds’ gallery which is home to an Egyptian Mummy. The room where the mummy is has a narrow walkway to follow, this isn’t an issue if you are the only one in there but when others come in can feel cramped. Whilst I was in there, three other people came in and crowded round me which made me feel really anxious. I left the room before I had properly looked at everything in the space.
As always I like to mention how accessible the museum was in terms of sensory needs:
- Sound – the noise levels around the museum were generally quiet. The only place I felt overwhelmed by the sound was in the ‘Leeds Story’ gallery. At any one time you can hear the videos being played throughout the gallery, the audio being played above your head and the sound of the interactive displays.
- Light – due to the nature of the artefacts on display the lighting levels are low.
- Seating – there were plenty of spaces available to sit down during my visit.
Whilst the lighting levels are low, it does mean that it is quite difficult to see the artefacts on display. In some cases, due to where the lights are positioned, it does mean that all you can see is your own reflection which is extremely distracting and distressing.
I did notice that there were signs for a quiet space on the lower ground floor. This is the first place I have visited where I have seen a dedicated quiet space so I really pleased to see this being available to autistic visitors.
Overall, I was extremely pleased with how much information Leeds City Museum provide for accessibility for autistic people. I visited during the school holidays and was pleasantly surprised that I was still able to enjoy my visit without feeling too overwhelmed. However, there were some parts of my visit that I found inaccessible.