By 2015, AARP forecasts that 45% of the United States population will be age 50 or older. This segment of our population has grown sizably because of the generation known as the “Baby Boomers” (people born between 1946 and 1964). Statistically, these “Boomers” seek adventurous and physically active leisure pursuits. However, as they continue to age, they will be faced with many of the same physical and cognitive impairments associated with older adults. What does that mean for guided tours? In the coming years, we should expect to see a rise in the number of “seniors” visiting museums. How do we ensure that these visitors have a good experience? That is the question we discussed recently with our docents at the Homestead Museum.
- Comfort is key. A 60- to 90-minute walking tour can be a long time on anyone’s feet; for older adults, standing and walking for long periods can be difficult. Keep in mind areas where people can sit during your tour. If you don’t have a lot of seating available, consider adding folding chairs to certain locations, or have them available in an accessible area to be brought out when needed. Giving parts of your tour while visitors are seated enables them to enjoy the experience without tiring out too quickly.
- Watch the clock. Be mindful of the length of your tour, especially when visitors are using assistive mobility devices (e.g. walker, wheelchair, cane). Pushing, carrying, or moving a device can be taxing. Condense parts of your tour and skip areas not integral to the tour to help shorten the overall length of the experience.
- E·nun·ci·ate. This is important to remember for all visitors, but more so for those who may have a hearing issue. Speak clearly and slow your pace. Remember to face your visitors when speaking, and if possible, stand in the corner of a room to help project your voice.
- Watch your step. Make visitors aware of changes in floor grades, uneven or steep surfaces, steps and stairs, and even changes in lighting while on tour. Give them time to adjust before moving on. Wait a few seconds after you enter a new space to give visitors a chance to catch up with the rest of the group, adjust their eyes to different lighting, and take in what is on display.
- Compare and contrast. Older adults have experienced many changes in the past 30 to 50 years. Use this to your advantage to get conversations going on tour. By asking questions about what changes they have seen in their own lives, visitors can make connections and better relate with the tour.
The more comfortable and welcoming we can make our sites and institutions now, the more we can insure continued visitation of Baby Boomers—and all age groups—in the future.
This post comes from Gennie Truelock, Programs Manager at the Homestead Museum in the City of Industry, CA. In this dynamic position, she develops and implements engaging programs for audiences ranging from preschoolers to seniors; and coordinates the recruitment, selection, training, and evaluation of volunteer staff. Gennie serves as team chair of the museum’s training and living history teams (portraying a 1920s character herself!), and assists with exhibition planning.