Are museums no go zones?
Museum of London, Docklands
Have you ever been to a museum that hasn’t had a toilet for visitors, staff and volunteers? If it’s a medium to large museum – probably not. They are probably high on the list if not essential.
Disabled people are potential employees, volunteers and visitors, yet still so many museums fail to provide usable, safe toilets for people with access needs.
I’ve been to hundreds of UK museums of all sizes, only 2 fully met my needs. If I am with my care assistants I can only visit places with hoists.
If a museum provides accessible and usable toilets for people, the benefits are perhaps obvious:
- Larger pool of employees to choose from
- Disabled and older people can visit
- More attractive to disabled and older volunteers
- More attractive to schools who have disabled teachers or students
This leads to increased community outreach, education, visitors and profits / grants.
Without usable toilets, museums and galleries are choosing not to welcome and exclude disabled people.
We have accessible toilets
You have to be very ‘able’ to safely use ‘standard’ accessible toilets. You have to have either strong arms or legs (to transfer from a chair or stand/sit), good balance, good dexterity and grip to hold support rails. Many people are not that ‘able’ e.g. people with MD, MS, MND, arthritis, CP, paralysis, stroke, short limbs, learning difficulties, autism, anxiety … that’s collectively millions of people!!
Florence Nightingale Museum
This type of toilet might meet most of the standard criteria but only for the very able.
Museums need to:
- Audit standard toilets against the most recent recommendations for access
This one below has a raised seat which is not part of access criteria and can make it extra difficult or impossible for wheelchair transfers. The toilet roll is high up and the emergency cord is wrapped around the support rail.
- Install either a space to change toilet or Changing Places. These have essential space and equipment like a hoist and changing bench.
- Install a ceiling hoist over standard toilets to increase the number of visitors/staff who can only get out of their wheelchair with a hoist (like Lincoln Castle has below).
- Advertise your facilities or people won’t go if they are not confident there is a usable toilet.
- Show pictures of your toilets in access guides and provide clear signage.
- Have regular reviews of toilet access.
It is still disappointing that so many museums exclude people. Most of the big museums across London for example do not provide usable toilets (notably Cardiff and Edinburgh have full facilities in key museums) . When these London venues are approached they don’t want to know.
“In Kent there are no museums with hoists in their toilets – so I can’t visit at all.”
Attitudes must change if disabled people are to get inside museums – it doesn’t matter how many tactile maps, quiet areas and ramps you have if people then have to worry if they will wet themselves and have a miserable stressful day out.