Neurodivergent and disabled artist Beth Davis-Hofbauer who is Director of Live Art Local and Sticks Gallery, has published a piece of self-initiated research ‘Autism Matters: making galleries and museums ASD/SPD friendly’ examining the access provision for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and/or Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD) at art galleries and museums in the UK. The research is accompanied by a series of practical suggestions which could easily be implemented by almost any gallery or museum.
‘Autism Matters: making galleries and museums ASD/SPD friendly,’ collates existing research with interview material from 47 respondents with either ASD/SPD, or both. As Davis-Hofbauer identifies in the research:
“Through my interviews with autistic artists I discovered that attending galleries and private views is near impossible for those who experience sensory issues. They are negatively impacted by the shiny and reflective surfaces, the bright lighting, the noise, and the crowds.
The result is sensory overload and so they either don’t attend exhibitions and private views, or are only able to spend a relatively short amount of time in them. This of course can have a negative impact on people’s careers as they are less able to network and make connections with others.”
Of the people surveyed in the research, a staggering 96% felt that galleries and museums ‘need to do more to become more accessible to those with ASD and SPD. The most requested change was reduced noise and calming sounds, with dimmed lights and separate sessions where materials used in different art works and displays could be interacted with along with the work itself, coming a close second.
“There are numerous ways that cultural institutions can easily accommodate those with ASD and SPD and become truly Autism Friendly rather than just paying lip-service to the idea of Access for All. These range from the expensive and which must be considered at a planning level and others which are relatively very low cost and which can be adopted and implemented very quickly. Some of the suggestions here have already been successfully implemented by theatres and cinemas offering relaxed performances.”
The report makes a total of eight suggestions for galleries and museums to implement to make their spaces and exhibitions more ASD and SPD friendly. These are: social stories (simply structured, illustrated handouts); lower level lighting; visual aids which encourage interaction with work or make it clear what is not to be touched; the use of computers/touch screens to provide information; more subtle use of colour; the chance to explore materials used in the work; the provision of chill out spaces; and, vocal guides and noise-cancelling headphones.
Beth Davis-Hofbauer is an artist, writer, and director of an arts not-for-profit. As a disabled and neurodivergent artist, and mother of a son with severe Autism and SPD, she is determined to make the arts accessible to all. The research that led to this document began in 2015 during her Fine Art MA and the refining of the document into a simpler and more accessible text, took place after speaking with others at the Evolve Symposium in 2017.