Meeting the access needs of wheelchair users in your museum

White blonde haired girl in wheelchair investigating museum objects

Making your museum and programming accessible for wheelchair using children is pretty much the same as making it accessible to wheelchair using adults, but there are some important additional things to think about.

  • As with a school booking, ask during the booking process for family activities if there is a wheelchair using child in the group. Don’t ask the family to have to phone you to make an accessible booking, but you may want to ask if you can contact them prior to their visit to ask more questions about access needs.
  • Child sized wheelchairs can be lower to the ground than adult sized ones (sounds obvious but important to remember for child centered interactives and tabletop activities).
  • ‘Wheelchairs’ come in many different forms and for some children they can look a lot like ordinary ‘buggies’. This can cause issues if a museum requires pushchairs and buggies to be parked somewhere and SEND parents are asked to do the same.
  • It’s not always obvious that a buggy is being used as a wheelchair or support system for a SEND child. The child may be ambulant but need to use a buggy at times due to behavioral needs, or have limited energy and not be able to walk long distances. To save any difficult conversations for front of house staff, make it clear on your website and again on site, that special needs buggies are accepted as wheelchairs.
  • Leaving wheelchair space under interactives and tables, especially in places like the museum café are essential, or removing chairs for families when it is needed. Also consider the carer’s seating needs when in galleries or activity sessions next to the wheelchair user.
  • Offer families with a wheelchair using child, access to the front of an activity or workshop and a chair for their adult to sit next to them.
  • As with adults, not all children using a wheelchair will have learning disabilities – in these cases their access needs will be physical and require adjustments to space but the learning content of an activity may not require any adjustment.
  • Remember to talk to the wheelchair using child and involve them in conversation, not just the adult with them.
  • Many adult wheelchair users prefer people not to kneel or crouch down to be level with them, however you may feel more comfortable doing this with a child. Ask them and their adult carer/parent first if this is ok. It may make showing objects etc easier and more accessible.
  • Consider the actions within your activity sessions where you may ask children to stand, run, jump etc. If you know there will be a wheelchair using child in the workshop, can you adjust your language or give an alternative? – eg “jump up and down – or clap your hands twice”.
  • In your shop, consider the width between the aisles and height of pocket money items to be at an appropriate reach for wheelchair using children. If this cannot be done, then offer to get items off of display to show them and their carers. Similarly if you don’t have a low level shop counter, come around it to make the transaction an accessible height.
  • If installing artworks or exhibitions that invite children to participate and explore them, make sure you commission artists and design companies that only create inclusive, accessible works. If you change your commissioning policy to meet physical access needs of all visitors, then you will in turn change public art for the better.
  • You may have set up an access advisory group for your museum, consider recruiting a disabled youth panel or SEND parents to give a child perspective.

Kids in Museums: How can your museum better welcome families with a wheelchair user?

Arts Council England’s – Building Access: A good practice guide for arts and cultural organisations (PDF)