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Visiting the V&A Dundee

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Have you had a chance to visit the V&A Dundee yet? Before the Ocean Liners guest exhibition ended on the 24th February, I visited for the first time since it officially opened in September 2018. To prepare for my visit, I made sure to check their website for accessibility information. At first glance I couldn’t see the page to navigate to for this information. It wasn’t until I strolled down to the footer of the page that I discovered it was situated within the ‘Visit’ page.

Image of the outside of the V&A Dundee.
Outside of the V&A Dundee.

The information is very basic and there are no images to visual illustrate what facilities are available. I am the type of person that prefers to see what is spoken about rather than just reading endless lists of information. Within these lists it details where you are able to find equipment to hire during the duration of your visit. The main problem I have with the information supplied, which I only discovered after my visit, is that the V&A website doesn’t state that the Changing Place toilet is locked by a code and not a RADAR key. It also doesn’t say what the code is or where to find it out.

Image of the entrance of the V&A Dundee from the inside.
Entrance of the V&A Dundee from the inside.

One of the main facilities mentioned within the accessibility section on the V&A website is parking around the city centre of Dundee. There are a few accessible and standard parking spaces right beside the V&A that are council run. When you first arrive at V&A Dundee, you are greeted by a great level access entrance and wide automatic doors. The customer desk which is after the second set of automatic doors is at an excellent level for wheelchair users and the main area to the V&A Dundee is very spacious. There’s a lift before you enter the second automatic door that allows you access to the first floor where the Changing Place toilet is, and the lift in the main area, beside the gift shop, takes you to the second floor where the exhibitions are.

There are two exhibitions rooms within the V&A Dundee. The Scottish Design Galleries is free to visit and displays many artefacts from Scottish designers over the years. My favourite piece in this gallery is the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Oak Room, I think the reason for this because it’s wheelchair accessible. Most of the time historic rooms like this are inaccessible to me, there usually a different area I have to enter or only a small section available to me, not here though. I am able to enjoy the same experience as every other visitor.

Image showing height of information card.
‘Lovers Lace’ dress, from Autumn/Winter 2015 collection.

For a wheelchair user visiting this exhibition, I would say that it is very accessible. All cards describing the artefact on show is either at eye level or just a little lower for visitors to read. I would say that the only problem I had was when you are able to interact with certain objects. These are displayed on a table which I personally struggled to reach. I’d been told previously that other items could be brought out for visitors who struggle to reach but, when I visited there were no staff around to asked. When you exit this exhibition, the door is closed and very heavy to open, I can’t open any doors that aren’t automatic, but I feel others may struggle with them too. Again, I’d been previously told staff would be on hand to assist people with the doors, but there was no one there. At the entrance there was a security guard and staff member to open the door to let you in, but no one when you’re leaving. I understand these doors can not be left open all the time due to the controlled temperatures in the exhibition however, automatic pads to open the doors may help a lot of visitors.

To visit the guest exhibitions, you have to pay. On the ‘Accessibility’ page of the website it states you have to phone a number for ticket and access enquiries between 10am and 2pm Monday to Friday, even though the V&A Dundee is also open at the weekend. It doesn’t say, which it should, the prices of tickets and that carer tickets are free of charge. You can buy tickets from the information desk or online before you visit, carer tickets are available online.

Image of the outside of the guest exhibition, Ocean Liners.
Outside of the guest exhibition, Ocean Liners.
Image of Claire looking around the Ocean Liners exhibition.
Claire looking around the Ocean Liners exhibition.

Now of course the guest exhibition Ocean Liners is finished now but, I’m still going to mention what I thought of the accessibility here because it might be similar next time. Artefacts are displayed in the Ocean Liners exhibition very similar to the way they are displayed in the Scottish Design Galleries exhibition. Although I would say I struggled to see more in Ocean Liners. Information cards were placed above my eye level and flat so I couldn’t read them, and book artefacts were placed flat, making them difficult to see too. I am fortunate that my wheelchair can rise up however, not everyone is able to do that, and some cards were low down so I would have been going up and down all day. My favourite part in the Ocean Liners exhibition had to be seeing all the outfits that people would wear when onboard and also the detailed models of past Ocean Liners.

After visiting the exhibition, I stopped off at the café. My first impression was that it wasn’t very spacious and unfortunately, I was only able to sit at an outer table. My friend had to go up to order our drinks because I felt there wasn’t enough room for me to go up myself. The tables were at a good height for sitting in my wheelchair and they are able to be moved if I did want to go up to the counter myself, only if it wasn’t busy though.

Image showing the tables in the cafe.
The tables in the cafe.
Image of the reception desk.
Reception desk.

Before I left, I went up to the information desk to ask what the code to the Changing Places toilet was. At first the staff didn’t know what I was talking about, then they didn’t know where to find it. Eventually they gave me it but, I do find it awkward asking for it, especially if it was busy and everyone is hearing that you need the toilet. Luckily it doesn’t change though, so I know it now for future visits. Every time there is a new exhibition on, I will definitely be visiting the V&A Dundee, I also would like to visit the restaurant as well in the near future. Ocean Liners is only open until the 24th February, therefore if you haven’t visited yet I would definitely recommend you go soon.

Follow Claire D'All:

I graduated from the University of Dundee in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Applied Computing. During my studies the field that I had a great interest in was web development however since graduating I have also become very interested in accessibility. I was born with Congenital Muscular Dystrophy and since the age of 3 I have used a wheelchair 24/7. Due to my disability I have always come across problems regarding accessibility, which is why it’s such a passion for me.

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