Some of the UK’s top heritage sites, which make up a significant proportion of the country’s museum sector, are not sufficiently inclusive, according to a damning new report into the issue. The report, published by Ecclesiastical, an insurance firm that specialises in heritage sites, stated that well over a quarter of parents of children with special needs found museums to be unwelcoming places. Precisely 29 per cent of respondents to the organisation’s survey – which was conducted for them by Censuswide – said that museums, galleries, theatres, stately homes and castles were not open to their additional needs as visitors. In fact, they reported that problems ranging from being made unwelcome to even feeling as though they were being asked to leave were widespread in the heritage museum sector.
The findings in the survey that backed up the reports claims made for grim reading among professionals in the industry. Although it was only a minority of parents with children who have special needs that reported negatively about the heritage museum sector, this by no means meant that the majority of respondents thought the heritage industry was doing well, merely that they hadn’t been made to feel unwelcome. What may be even more of a problem for the sector as a whole is that 13 per cent of parents of children without any special needs requirements said that they had experienced similarly unwelcoming attitudes and facilities.
A Large Survey Group
Importantly, the survey’s report was not put together from a small sample. The number of parents with children under 16 years of who gave their feedback in the survey numbered 2,000. Of them at least 220 identified as the parent or parents of a child with special needs. According to the survey’s findings, it was this group that was the least satisfied by museums and other institutions in the UK’s heritage industry. However, the survey also uncovered the unpalatable fact that in excess of two-fifths of such families thought that either staff or other visitors to these centres were unfriendly, making them feel uncomfortable, let alone unwelcomed. Indeed, as many as 42 per cent of the survey’s sample group agreed that this had been their experience. By comparison, around a fifth – 22 per cent, to be precise – of the survey’s respondents with kids who do not have special needs said they felt the same.
According to Ecclesiastical’s report, the heritage industry is failing both sets of parents to some extent with those who have children with special or additional needs feeling particularly let down. In fact, the stately home sub-sector came in for especially high levels of criticism in the report. Almost half of the parents of special needs children who took part in the survey reported that Britain’s stately homes are not doing enough to meet their needs. Public art galleries were the next most criticised type of institution with 46 per cent of parents with children who have special needs saying that they are not sufficiently well catered for. This was closely followed by castles which saw a similar proportion of negativity.
Suggestions for Improvement
The report went further than simply offering criticism for an under-catered for group. Something like half of the interviewees who took part in the study said that heritage organisations and other public institutions could do better by creating designated areas for children with special needs, for example. In addition, a similar number of parents said that they thought that operators in the sector should provide quiet as well as loud times for visiting so that children with special needs would be able to enjoy them more.
There were other ideas that respondents to the survey also put forward as a way of making them feel more welcome. For example, 36 per cent of parents with children who have special needs declared that the chance to queue jump in certain situations would improve their visitor experience. Just under this proportion – 33 per cent – said that the introduction of accessible toilets and better changing facilities would help them to support their children’s needs while visiting (read more here about Making the Museum Autism Friendly).
Becki Morris, who is a director at the Disability Collaborative Network, said that she acknowledged the points made in the report. She commented on the survey by stating that she thought it was crucial for institutions in the heritage museum sector to recognise the sort of barriers many families face in relation to visits. “To progress as a sector,” she said, “We must make sure that the voices of disabled and neuro-divergent people are heard.” Morris went on to add that more can be done to highlight the good work that is being done and to raise the profile of it so that others can find similar solutions more rapidly. Ecclesiastical echoed her sentiment, stating that more needs to be done to encourage parents to visit what are some truly incredible places in the country with children of all needs.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.