How Museum and Attraction Operators Can Deliver Accessible Tourism Experiences

Tiqets for Venues Blog Team

February 23, 2024

When you hear the phrase accessible tourism, what comes to mind? 

This concept sounds simple, but it’s about a lot more than just serving people with obvious physical limitations. According to ENAT, accessible tourism is “tourism and travel that is accessible to all people, with disabilities or not, including those with mobility, hearing, sight, cognitive, or intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, older persons, and those with temporary disabilities.”

Consider the following scenarios.

An older gentleman loves art, but shies away from the in-person experience of visiting museums for fear it will entail more walking than he’s comfortable with.

A history buff with a gluten intolerance opts out of making a day at your museum because she’s worried there won’t be adequate onsite food options.

A dyslexic young adult has always struggled to read, and feels shame about it. They avoid situations where reading is critical – like a historic attraction where signage and exhibit explanations will really matter to their experience.

These are just a few examples of museum visitors outside the mainstream, and there are plenty more. Accessibility is not just a niche market. In the EU, 14% of people have a disability and 19% are over 65. According to a recent study in Ireland, 30% of potential visitors to tourism destinations are not confident they can easily access the range of experiences available. 

Accessible tourism encompasses a wider range of human experiences than you might think. If your museum or attraction is (or seems) inaccessible to nearly one out of three people, you’re missing out on a rich audience (and revenue).

This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to overhaul your entire facility and rethink all of your exhibits. Sometimes, visitors with certain needs avoid your museum or attraction simply because they don’t know what to expect. You might already offer them a highly accessible experience, but fall short on making this obvious in your marketing materials. Or, there may be small adjustments you can make and offerings you can create to enrich your museum or attraction’s accessible tourism experience.

The more your museum or attraction can create accessible experiences and share information about them in advance, the better. You don’t always have to spend a fortune overhauling your facility or experience

The true importance of accessible tourism

If the mission of museums and attractions is to share culture, history, and experiences, that has to include everyone – not just the normally abled. When you expand the old-fashioned notion of “disability” beyond wheelchair use or blindness, you can make your museum or attraction more accessible for people with behavioral, psychosocial, and learning differences, as well as young families, older individuals, and people with medical conditions that may not be visible or obvious.

In other words, accessibility in tourism means thoughtfully creating environments, opportunities, experiences, and services that actively cater to people of all kinds, living within a wide range of personal experiences. What do you stand to gain from this effort? Not just being conscious of human needs and creating an inclusive museum culture, but actual revenue that would otherwise be left on the table. 

Efforts to implement accessible tourism lead to enhanced customer service, better reviews, repeat customers, and the true advantage of word-of-mouth marketing. Here are 10 ways to think about incorporating accessible tourism into your museum or attraction.

7 easy ways to implement accessible tourism experiences  in museums and attractions

ways to implement accessible tourism experiences  in museums and attractions
Blind reading text caption in braille language at at National Archeological Museum of Madrid. Photo by WH_Pics on Shutterstock

Here are some places to start.

1. Increase experiences in the off seasons or during the off hours

People with traditional disabilities tend to travel during times when others don’t. They may want to visit your museum when it’s less crowded and noisy. Placing an emphasis on welcoming them during these times can help disabled visitors feel seen.

If your museum or attraction has an off season, consider offering special rates or events for those who identify with particular accessibility groups. Additionally, consider days and times to invite marginalized groups of people throughout the year, such as your slower days of the week.

2. Provide more than one way to get information

Not everyone reads well, or at all. Perhaps your museum or attraction already employs universal signage throughout the facility, and you might even offer the option of Braille signage. But you can take this effort further with audio options – not just audio tours but audio versions of signage and exhibit descriptions.

3. Strategically design your seating options

For people who have trouble walking or even standing for long periods, providing places to sit down at strategic points throughout your museum or attraction is a thoughtful gesture. 

Instead of just sticking a bench here and there, consider where you could strategically place comfortable seating that would allow patrons to view art from a sitting position – and consider how the art (or other type of exhibit) will look from that angle. Good seating should contribute to the viewing experience, not just enable a quick rest for a tired visitor.

4. Create a detailed mobility map

One of the best ways to prepare visitors to expect accessible experiences is to create an explicitly coded map that’s available prior to their visit. This map might include the locations of accessible bathrooms, the availability of quiet spaces, audio-specific exhibits, and more.

5. Include your accessible tourism efforts in your marketing

Make sure to offer the mobility map and other accessible tourism options on all of your marketing channels: your website, emails to ticket holders, social media platforms, and printed brochures. The more detailed you can be, the more potential visitors will know what to expect and whether your museum or attraction will work for their needs.

6. Make your marketing itself accessible

This means not just talking about accessibility options in your marketing, but making the marketing itself accessible with:

  • Images with alternative text for the blind and those with limited sight
  • Videos as an option to read text (and, conversely, closed captioning for all videos)
  • Text, when you have it, that’s easily readable by any level of reader
  • Text that’s automatically translated for readers of other languages
  • Simple, high-contrast digital design that’s easy to see and understand

And perhaps most importantly: Feature diversity in your marketing campaigns, remembering there’s a wide range of diversity across the spectrum of physical capability, behavior, gender expression, and more. 

7. Go gender neutral

Offer gender-neutral bathrooms and language across the board in any place pronouns are deployed, including paperwork and interactive exhibits.

4 bigger things to think about when it comes to accessible tourism

In addition to the incremental efforts suggested above, there are some bigger initiatives to think about – some more pressing than others, starting with perhaps the most critical effort you can make.

1. Comply with any local, regional, and national accessibility laws

The European Accessibility Act was voted into action in 2022, giving museums and attractions until mid-2025 to comply. It covers a lot of areas of accessibility, including websites, mobile services, and even electronic ticketing. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to all museums and attractions in the United States, particularly Title III of this act. And in other nations and regions, other accessibility laws apply.

As a side note working with an online travel agency (OTA) like Tiqets comes with the added advantage of partnering with an organization that’s completely up to speed on how accessibility laws apply to digital marketing and ticketing in every region they support.

2. Appoint an “access officer” or team 

Ensuring that one person within your organizational structure “owns” accessible tourism at your venue is a great way to amp up your efforts and tie them together across teams and projects. It also gives visitors (and the public) a contact point for complaints and suggestions, opening up a valuable line of communication. 

3. Lean into UDT

Universal Design for Learning, or UDT, is a model for the design of museum programs and exhibit spaces that was developed following the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The aim of UDT is to encourage exhibit and experience designers to create spaces that aren’t just accessible on a basic level, but actually create learning and engagement for people of all kinds.

A basic tenet of UDT is to provide visitors with multiple means of engagement to encourage truly meaningful interactions. (Read more about that here.) For neurodiverse people – including those with autism, ADHD, and dyslexia – this is particularly important. Their brains do not necessarily process information in the way the neurotypical brain does, and they may take in exhibits and display their reactions differently than the general public. 

4. Initiate comprehensive staff training

While last, this suggestion is critically important to all museums and attractions. Always train your staff so they’re knowledgeable about a range of disabilities and ways to make the museum or attraction experience more accessible to all. When you create a culture that’s welcoming, diverse, and above all, inclusive, magic happens.

Museums and attractions that have mastered accessible tourism

The Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC, has been a leader in creating accessible museum experiences for a long time. As just a few examples, the Smithsonian offers ASL tours as well as specific “Mornings at the Museum” carved out for families of neurodiverse children, teenagers, and young adults.

The Smithsonian’s website has a prominent page outlining all the efforts the organization makes to provide accessibility for visitors, with a link to a PDF of an accessibility map. The website also includes information about specific accessibility accommodations for visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing, blind or low-vision, neurodiverse, experiencing dementia, subject to a mobile disability, or visiting with a service dog. 

The Louvre, in Paris, has 18 elevators and 20 wheelchair lifts, making it one of the most accessible museums in Europe on impressive scale. Visitors can even book a private guided tour for an optimized experience that provides an efficient and thorough route through the grounds of the old palace the Louvre inhabits.

A lot of museums and attractions are beginning to offer “sensory-friendly” experiences where the noise level, crowd, and lighting are considerate of those who are easily overwhelmed by sensory input. The Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam, reserves specific evenings for this crowd, and during that time, accepts fewer visitors, dims the lights, and hosts a reception by specifically trained hosts, among other amenities and accommodations.

At the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, special events include hours adapted to welcome autistic visitors, who are invited to “Play Without Boundaries” with lighting and sound adjusted, quiet zones provided, and trip pre-guides distributed so families can better prepare and know exactly what to expect. 

More accessible tourism resources

More accessible tourism resources. Convex exhibit for visually impaired and blind people.
Convex exhibit for visually impaired and blind people. Photo by STEKLO on Shutterstock

These are just a small sampling of the ways museums and attractions can make a big difference in welcoming visitors of all kinds, but there are a lot of in-depth resources you can turn to for more ideas. 

Perhaps an obvious place to look for inspiration is the Neurodiverse Museum, a UK-based organization that works to support museums and attractions in creating more accessible experiences. Their vision is to “shift the dialogue and provision from deficit, person first, exclusionary models, to presumed competence, identity first, inclusionary models.”

The American Alliance of Museums offers a robust list of accessibility resources on its website. And the Smithsonian has generously published a web portal for museum professionals full of more resources.

Making progress toward more diverse museums and attractions

Making museums and attractions accessible has long felt like a bit of a bonus mission. Outside of adhering to regulatory guidelines that make handicap ramps and other accommodations legally necessary, other upgrades to facilities and experiences often get deprioritized in lieu of making the mainstream experience shine.

But the numbers don’t quite add up. Widening the definition of accessibility in tourism means accepting that there are all kinds of people in this world. Make them all feel welcome and cared for within your space, and you increase your visitor market exponentially.  

Whether you jump in with the support of an accessibility budget or build accessibility into your museum or attraction in incremental ways, you’re going in the right direction.

Contact us to find out more about how an OTA can help your museum become more accessible, or read more on this subject in the blog post How to Offer More Inclusive Museum Experiences Through Neurodiversity Awareness.

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