Teresa Garratty: London’s tourist attractions are more accessible than you’d think

Posted on November 21, 2017

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I’ve recently had a deaf friend visit from abroad because that’s the kind of social delight that I am.

That’s right, someone literally flew to the UK, just to see me…and possibly the Queen and stuff but mostly me!

Unfortunately, I’m incredibly boring and a terrible person to be around, so I had to distract my friend by taking her to lots of Britishly exciting places. This opened my eyes to a few tourist attractions that I’d not experienced before and guess what….some of them were accessible!

I don’t usually bother with UK tourist things as they involve people droning on about God knows what for hours on end, like the headline band of some sort of mono-tonal borefest.

For example, a few years ago I went to The London Dungeons and was dragged through various rooms containing battered fibreglass props, by a woman dressed as an old crone with a penchant for dishing out history lessons and wailing “That it be!” every five minutes.

The extent of their accessibility for deaf people consisted of being told to push to the front of the crowd so I could lip read, but if you know the general public, you can imagine how well that went down…

But that was then, and this is now! There are a few UK touristy gems out there, that can still be enjoyed by us deafies and here they are:

Sherlock Holmes Museum

This is just a quick tour of the Baker Street house. It’s like, four bedrooms or something, so don’t expect to spend eternity wandering the halls. It’s made my list more from a general languages point of view really.

They give you a printed leaflet of information before going in and it’s available in quite a few different languages. So, if you’re with foreign friends, you should all be accounted for. There is a guided talk once you’re inside but as the rooms are small, you’ll be close to the speaker.

That’s good for lip readers or anyone with some residual hearing. Also, on our visit the staff were friendly and made some effort to sign basic gestures about how to hold our bags so we didn’t break the 300 year old violin.

Tower Bridge

Again, the staff were friendly and welcoming. There wasn’t much speaking from anyone, it’s mostly walking around by yourself, reading info if you fancy it, or staring through the glass floor with sheer terror.

The big bonus here is that the videos in the walkways are subtitled in multiple languages, good for locals and friends from overseas. Oh, there’s also a concession ticket for deaf/disabled people. No need to prove it, just mention it when purchasing your ticket.

Windsor Castle

We get the wonky discount again here! Same as before, just mention it when buying your ticket. This means that you’ll also be offered a written transcript (in multiple languages again!) of the audio tour all the hearies are using. (Yeah, turns out they’re not all on very long, one sided phone calls!)

This was a nice gesture but the transcripts are HUGE, like War & Peace huge and it can be quite difficult and time consuming to read everything while trying to take in the sights. Maybe not a great one for those who don’t read, but it’s there if you’d like the option and it’s definitely a move in the right direction.

Brighton Pavilion

Here we have the mother-lode of deaf friendly UK sight seeing. There’s a wonky discount (including free entry for a “carer”) and to compensate for the audio tour there’s only a flipping video BSL guide!!

And it’s blooming well subtitled too!

This means that both deaf BSL and deaf oral people can get the same level of access throughout the building. Out of all the attractions we went to, it was the only one to provide any information via sign language. So in some ways, we’d hit the deaf tourist jackpot!

HOWEVER!

(Yes, that’s right. I have a complaint, it’s what we deaf people live for after all)

BSL and English subtitles aren’t necessarily helpful to foreign deaf people visiting the UK. I don’t know if there were other subtitle languages available, as we weren’t offered any and I couldn’t get the space age video tour contraption to display any…but that might have been handy for my friend.

All in all, I’m taking this as a positive experience. Accessibility seems to be on the up and hopefully in the future we’ll ALL be able to enjoy everything in the way that suits us best. Here’s to making the world more accessible one cheesy tourist attraction at a time!

Read more of Teresa’s posts (with cartoons!) by clicking here.

Teresa is a freelance film maker, photographer and full time cynic. At school, she was voted “Most likely to end up in a lunatic asylum”, a fate which has thus far been avoided. Her pet hates are telephones, intercoms and all living things. Follow her on Twitter as @TGarratty

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