It has been a while since I wrote a blog so I wanted to return to writing my ‘Autism Review’ series and this time the focus will be on another museum. For the sixth blog in the series, I will be reviewing how accessible the Royal Armouries in Leeds is for autistic visitors.
Before you visit:
There is some information available on the website (www.royalarmouries.org) about the accessibility of the site for visitors. Whilst there isn’t a section specifically on accessibility for autistic visitors there is some information provided that is relevant for autistic people. This includes:
- Information on accessible parking spaces
- Assistance dogs are welcome at the museum
- Information on what to expect when you arrive including the colour of the desk to look out for
- Advice for any carers to undertake a pre-visit if possible
- Advance warning that there are audio announcements if you choose to use the lifts
- Information on accessible toilets and where the nearest changing places toilet is located (a six-minute walk from the museum)
I am pleased with the amount of accessibility information provided and the fact that the information provided is generic for all ages rather than focusing on just children. I would like to see the information for autistic visitors to be made clearer rather than needing to read through all the information to identify the relevant sections. I also feel the use of a visual story to build upon the description of the entrance would be beneficial.
During your visit:
Upon arrival I was greeted by a friendly Museum Assistant at the entrance, who explained clearly where I needed to go to find out more about what was happening at the museum that day. The entrance was clearly set out with a one-way system that has been implemented due to the current situation. Another Museum Assistant explained everything that was taking place that day with the option of either a paper leaflet to take with you or a large sign to photograph. I was also made aware that before each of the scheduled talks there would be an announcement that would be heard throughout the museum.
There were a number of scheduled talks on the day I visited which took place outside due to the current situation. The staff were very helpful in directing myself and other visitors to where we needed to go. The talks themselves were delivered in a clear and engaging way with a good mix between spoken information and practical elements making them suitable for a wide audience. One of the demonstrations involved the firing of guns. This is obviously a sudden loud noise and upon hearing this was taking place I chose not to go to it, however the sound was still evident even from a large distance and I didn’t feel there was enough information available to warn visitors of this noise.
I also attended the horse shows on the day that I visited. I found the commentary to be very clearly delivered with appropriate information that was suitable to everyone in the audience. The Tiltyard where they take place can hold large numbers of people which is overwhelming when you are entering or leaving the arena. I arrived early for both shows to ensure that I missed the crowds and avoided being in a large queue. Throughout the show there was low level music playing which helped me to focus on the show rather than any potential background noise. In the second show of the day, I was in an especially noisy section of the audience and was repeatedly disturbed by other audience members, it may be worth having a quiet section of the audience as I did find this quite overwhelming.
I enjoyed being able to go into the stables to meet the horses and riders afterwards. Although the long queue and lack of staff to support with managing the queue made this a challenging experience.
The most overwhelming experience throughout the day was without a doubt the café. From the long queues to the menu that was inaccessible to read on the screen above the counter, the vast amount of background noise and the confusion caused by staff, my experience was extremely distressing. I understand that this was during the school holidays, but I do think that more needs to be done to address the accessibility of the café.
I also took time to explain the galleries at the museum. It is stated that there is a one-way system in place which is identified by following the signs and arrows. Due to the sheer size of the museum and galleries it is easier to find a quieter gallery to explore throughout the day. There were some new exhibitions that I was really excited to see, especially Tudor: Power and Glory as this is an area that I am really interested in. I was pleased to see the positive steps taken towards accessibility in the space, previously there was a video that played when a button was pressed creating a sudden noise, whereas now the videos play on a loop with subtitles instead. The information about the exhibition was displayed on a dark blue background with white writing which is makes it more accessible to read. However, the placement of spotlights directly above created a huge amount of glare and sensory difficulties (this can be seen in the bottom left photo). The galleries can become very echoey due to their size so I would recommend visiting at a quieter time.
Overall, I was impressed with the steps taken towards being accessible for autistic people and I really enjoyed my visit. However, I do feel that there are a few areas where other small adjustments could be made to make this fully accessible for autistic visitors in the future.