Taking action to make the UK’s visitor attractions accessible to all people with hearing loss

People visiting a museum or heritage site often find it a very visual experience, however at Action on Hearing Loss we have found that visitors who are deaf or have hearing loss are often neglected by tourist attractions.

There were 92 million visits made in 2012 to visitor attractions that are in membership with the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA). When you consider that 10 million people in the UK are affected by hearing loss, you can see that this makes up a significant number of potential visitors and presents a business case to improve access to this large but ‘unheard’ population. The prevalence is only going to get bigger as the population ages. When you look at this in a global context, there are 800 million people who are affected and this is a number that is set to rise to 1.1 billion by 2015.

People with hearing loss experience many barriers when visiting popular tourist venues including, lack of awareness among staff, no subtitles at specific exhibits and minimal promotion or advertising of the museum’s commitment to meeting the needs of people with hearing loss. Accessibility at museums and established heritage sites varies across the UK so it is important to recognise that change will not happen overnight. It may take some time, training and capital investment before all attractions reach the gold standard.

Over 70% of people with hearing loss told us that having deaf aware staff would encourage them to choose one business over another so it is clear that the need to make attractions more accessible has never been greater.

Hearing loops are essential to help people with hearing aids communicate at customer-facing points. The right equipment and informed staff can make an enormous difference to a visitor’s experience. In 2012 we started to work with some of London’s top attractions ahead of the Olympic Games, and as a result we discovered that only three out of 20 had hearing loops in good working order. Out of the 11 attractions that advertised loop provision, only seven actually had a loop.

Small changes can make a big difference

There are simple steps that can be taken to improve the customer experience for people with hearing loss, including the provision of:

  • Hearing loops that are regularly maintained so hearing aid wearers can communicate clearly with staff
  • BSL signed tours and subtitles at interactive exhibitions or tours
  • Clear signage so hearing aid wearers know where a loop is installed and can navigate their way around easily
  • Deaf & hearing loss awareness training to make your staff and volunteers feel more confident when dealing with customers who have hearing loss
  • Tell people about what access you have on your website
  • Feedback mechanisms for your hearing loss audience on how accessible they found their visit
  • Tour guide systems that ensure visitors don’t miss a thing by transmitting the tour guides voice to hearing devices

“Since we purchased the Tour Guide System from Action on Hearing Loss, visitors can now hear the tour guide clearly, without disturbance from background noise in the craft factory. We have received excellent feedback from visitors who have benefited from the system, as they now fully participate in the tour experience.” – Andrea Holmes, Denby Pottery

Your staff are also just as important as your customers, so improvements you make will also benefit members of your team with hearing loss.

Through its ‘Louder than Words™’ charter mark, Action on Hearing Loss can benchmark visitor attractions against quality standards that demonstrate a commitment to fair and accessible service provision and provide recommendations to overcome any service barriers.

“We have found the process of applying for the Louder than Words charter mark very useful in identifying areas for improvement and training. It has also been nice to find out what we are already doing well! We are always striving to improve our visitor experience and the visit from the access consultant has helped us to see ways of making the museum a better place to be for our deaf and hard of hearing staff and customers.” – Claire Field, Museum Director, Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre

What can you do?

Offering hearing support is a simple and effective way to enhance your service and demonstrate that you care about your customers and staff with hearing loss. Action on Hearing Loss specialises in providing equipment especially for the tourism industry, from smoke alarms, room loops, counter loops and tour guide systems. For more information on products, please visit our access for tourism webpage.

To find out more about our training or how you can apply for a ‘Louder than Words’ charter mark, contact the Access Solutions team at Action on Hearing Loss on [email protected] / 0161 276 2312 (calls welcome via text relay) Text Phone 0161 276 2316 visit the website.

For information about how to welcome customers with hearing loss and improve accessibility, read ‘Listen up!’ which has been produced in partnership with Action on Hearing Loss and Visit England.

The Museums Association also has some useful information, resources and case studies on how to make museums more accessible to deaf and hard of hearing audiences.