On my bookshelf | The Design of Educational Exhibits, second edition, by RS Miles - Museums Association

On my bookshelf | The Design of Educational Exhibits, second edition, by RS Miles

This book has useful pointers but also has major flaws
Becky Ealy
The Young V&A in London, which has recently reopened, has co-curated its exhibition spaces with children, for children, and has also worked to make the space accessible to everyone © David Parry/V&A

Published in 1988, this second edition was printed in 2001 and a digital version was made available in 2005.

I’d like to focus on the Disabled Visitors chapter as it provides direction for the route I have taken in my career in striving to create interpretative content that is accessible to everyone.

I found merit in the diagrams that demonstrate eye-level measurements for placing objects and interpretation panels for those with mobility issues, and I also benefited from the paragraphs on visually impaired and deaf visitors outlining tactile accessibility.

A pale blue book cover with the title of the book on it
This 1988 book remains valid on some levels, but there are upsetting uses of terms that have not been revised out in a recent republished edition

However, my concern about this chapter is the paragraph on the “mentally impaired”.

I was viscerally angered to see the outdated word “retarded” used within the text and was incensed at the implication that those with learning difficulties have no way to effectively engage with museum-based learning.


This demonstrates a lack of effort to reach out. With the number of reprints, this is not only an ableist action, but it is detrimental to the progress of inclusive practice in the sector.

I have close family members with learning disabilities, and I only received an autism diagnosis recently. My past experiences combine to fuel my passion for accessibility in this area.

This book was first published 35 years ago, so there is no excuse to still be using the ableist terminology that it does.

Becky Ealy is a freelance consultant for equitable interpretation

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