Blind and visually impaired people express access concerns

VocalEyes survey into museum reopening and live-streamed events
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An object from the British Museum's Tantra exhibition, which will include an audio-described tour
An object from the British Museum's Tantra exhibition, which will include an audio-described tour The Trustees of the British Museum

Blind and visually impaired people are concerned about social distancing measures at reopened museums although they are pleased with the opportunities for increased access being provided by live-streamed events, according to a new survey.

The survey was carried out by VocalEyes, an organisation that helps improve how blind and partially sighted people experience and art and heritage.

“Blind and visually impaired people are pleased with the opportunities for increased access through live-streamed events, but are equally keen to get back into museums and heritage sites,” said Matthew Cock, the chief executive of VocalEyes.

The survey shows that respondents are worried about several aspects of reopening, with social distancing being most concerning, followed by using public transport. They are less worried about pre-booking and check-in processes, but these need to be accessible online and via telephone, and with clear information provided beforehand.

“Social distancing is difficult and potentially stressful for visually impaired people, as it relies on non-blind people taking responsibility and being aware of blind and visually impaired people, and staff being aware and supportive.” Cock said.

A large majority of respondents are happy to use their own devices for audio description provided by the museum, but many highlighted what needs to be in place for this to work.

When asked what was needed to be in place for people to return, comments covered the following areas: audio description, booking, cleaning, events, gloves, guiding, hand sanitiser, information, layout, lighting, masks, online, queues, routes, signage, staff, time and visitors.

Around three in 10 respondents indicated that they would wait until social distancing and masks were not required before returning to museums, while around five in 10 indicated that they would not wait.

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For online and live-streamed museum, arts and heritage events, the survey found that the most used platforms by blind and visually impaired people were Zoom and YouTube. These were also the two platforms that respondents found most accessible.

“Many audio-described events at museums are restricted in numbers, fully booked and not at times that everyone can do,” Cock said. “Having live and recorded events online pushes those issues aside – blind and visually impaired people from around the world can attend a zoom audio-described tour.”

VocalEyes has developed an audio-described tour of the Tantra exhibition which opens at the British Museum on 13 October.

The full VocalEyes report on the survey is available here.

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