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How can museums increase accessibility for dyslexic visitors?

You might be surprised by how many of your visitors have some form of Dyslexia / Image: Shutterstock

With a mission to educate, inform and entertain, museums play fundamental roles in sparking interest and inspiring visitors of all ages, backgrounds and neurocognitive function. And while institutions around the world have long sought to improve accessibility and inclusivity, there is still more work to be done to ensure that those with neurological differences like dyslexia are accommodated and made welcome by cultural organisations.

Dyslexia is often characterised as a learning disability that affects reading, spelling and writing skills. Yet while weaknesses in literacy may be the most visible sign of the condition, dyslexia can also affect the way that individuals process, store and retrieve information, according to the British Association of Dyslexia.

Approximately 10% of the UK’s population has some form of dyslexia, and these figures are reflected globally. So, by making neurodivergent provision a priority and taking steps to make those with dyslexia feel comfortable and confident about visiting museum spaces (both physical and digital), it is clear that improvements to accessibility have the ability to engage millions of people with cultural experiences.

The quest for broader inclusivity and accessibility

Museums have a duty of care to cater to the wide range of needs presented by individuals from all walks of life. As society has firmly established in recent years, not all disabilities are visible, which makes broadening our institutions’ horizons when it comes to inclusivity and accessibility particularly important.

Museums provide the ideal settings to fulfil the requirements of those who learn in different ways. Over the course of the Coronavirus pandemic we have also seen this inclusive way of learning, inspiring and exhibiting expanded to digital platforms. This has helped to give more people access to the resources they need and experience all that modern day museums have to offer.

Dyslexic people are often innovative and creative thinkers, a fact that can inspire inclusive museum exhibitions, events and activities in the most wonderful ways. This was elegantly showcased in 2021 by Project Art Works – a collective of neurodiverse artists shortlisted for the Turner Prize.

Dyslexia friendly museum exhibits: practical steps

There are many practical steps that can be taken within museums to ensure that those with dyslexia are able to enjoy and understand exhibitions just as easily as those without.

This may begin with signage and information boards where sentence structures can be simplified, bold fonts included and better spacing utilised. For the latter, line spacing of 1.5 or 150% and inter-word spacing at least 3.5 times greater than the inter-letter spacing is preferable according to the British Dyslexia Association’s Dyslexia Style Guide.

The Sans Serif typeface has been found to be particularly legible for dyslexia sufferers, as has increased font size and the application of light text to darker backgrounds. Conversely, the use of italics is thought to make reading more difficult for those with dyslexia.

Diagrams, bullet pointed lists and the use of adapted printed materials can improve access for people with learning disabilities.

Audio guides and audio descriptive displays aren’t just useful for visually impaired museum visitors. They are excellent accompaniments to a dyslexic visitor’s museum experience. With this in mind, many museums are developing their audio guides and audio descriptive displays to improve engagement.

The museum sector’s pivot to digital during the Covid-19 lockdowns meant remotely accessible resources were invested in heavily. Many institutions developed an array of audio and audio-visual content that will continue to be of great value to dyslexic visitors online long into the future. And, in many instances, this content can be repurposed for use in physical visits to support learning and complement on-site information relating to exhibits.

Multisensory learning can benefit people with both dyslexia and dyscalculia too. Tactile displays and specialised tactile sessions encourage participation and interaction, engaging both verbal and non-verbal problem solving skills to achieve a more engaging experience.

Find out more about the health and wellbeing issues currently impacting museums at the upcoming Museums, Health and Wellbeing Summit, running 31st January – 2nd February 2022.


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