Last month I visited the Tower of London whilst I was away for a few days. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there were definitely accessibility points that I noticed throughout my visit so the Tower of London will be the topic of this ‘Autism Review’.
Before you visit:
I was really pleased to see the amount of information available about accessibility available on the website (https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/visit/accessibility/#gs.679pa6). The information includes information about:
- Concessions and Carer Tickets,
- Downloadable Access Guide,
- Hidden Disability Information,
- Accessible Travel Options,
- Specific Guide relating to Autism.
The detailed information meant that I had a very clear idea of what to expect during my visit. However, the detailed access guide seems to define access by how many steps there are in each part of the Tower. Whilst I understand that this is an important part of access, there is far more to accessibility to this so this needs to be considered within this guide.
I was also pleased that autism access was mention in both the detailed guide and had a separate guide. However, the detailed guide references autism in the ‘Parents Survival Guide’ section and the autism specific guide is called ‘Guide for Parents/Carers of children and people on the Autistic Spectrum and Related Conditions’. This implies that only parents/carers will be interested in finding out about accessibility for autistic people, I felt excluded by this guidance as I felt that it wasn’t aimed at me. This information is really helpful but needs to acknowledge that autistic people need this information as well.
One thing that I did find disappointing about my experience before my visit was the concession tickets for a disabled visitor. As with many places, I noted that the Tower of London requires you to bring proof of your disability with you in order to use the ticket. This only puts more barriers in the way of an autistic visitor. In the end, I decided not to get a concession ticket as the extra paperwork required was too much.
During your visit:
When I first arrived there was a lot of signage directing you towards the entrance however, this soon caused confusion as to which queue we needed to join and which entrance we needed to go in due to the current Super Bloom exhibition. In the end, we guessed and joined one of the queues near Traitors Gate where we were met with more confusion caused by the communication by the security. Once inside, the signage was much clearer, and we were able to find our way around without a problem.
One of the main things everyone wants to see at the Tower of London is the Crown Jewels. The queue for this wasn’t too long at the time I visited but this could be a barrier for autistic visitors at busier times so an express queue system would be beneficial here. It does say on the website that if you don’t want to go through the whole crown jewels section a member of staff would take you straight through to them. However, this was not clearly signposted once there, and I didn’t many staff that were available to ask about this. One of the rooms was very dark and played a video where both the audio and visuals were overstimulating so more signage and information before you visit needs to be made available about this.
There are many exhibitions to see, and some were more accessible than others. The Royal Armouries in the White Tower follows a clear one-way system which means there is no confusion and you don’t miss anything that you wanted to see. However, some of the exhibitions in the other towers would have benefitted from either a one way system as it was very confusing to follow the content and meant that you were bumping into people going in the opposite direction. Given that this was in a small space anyway, this meant it was quite an overwhelming experience. I also noted that the text size on the panels was quite small which made them very difficult to read.
The most sensory demanding experience for me was definitely the café, the space was echoey, there was lots of conflicting noise and many different smells. There was also a lack of signage meaning that it wasn’t clear where you were meant to wait. The biggest problem for me was the lack of food that I was able to eat, due to my sensory sensitivities, there are a number of foods that I just can’t eat. The café needed more plain food options that weren’t just aimed at children available. Finding where to pay was even more confusing with staff shouting at you from all directions all giving a different message. By the time I sat down, I was extremely anxious and overstimulated.
During my visit, I also attempted to join one of the Yeoman Warder tours. The only reason that I wasn’t able to complete the tour was due to the extreme heat on the day and lack of shaded places to stand meaning it was unbearable (although I do recognise it was worse for Chris, the Yeoman Warder!). The tour itself was engaging, clear and informative. I really wish I had been able to stay for the whole tour.
Overall, I was impressed with the accessibility for autistic visitors at the Tower of London, however there are still some areas for improvement especially with information for adults, signage and the café to improve the accessibility of a visit.