In recent years, emphasis has been put on ensuring that people with disabilities or at risk of social exclusion can also have access to museums or heritage spaces because of their educational potential (McMillen & Alter, 2017; Martins, 2019; Hutchinson & Eardley, 2021). We understand, in this sense, that any space can provide opportunities for learning, especially when they are designed as spaces for learning.

In order to approach this study, concepts related to inclusion in cultural heritage and museums have been chosen. Through an exhaustive review of books and articles, interesting and outstanding information has been obtained on the reality of accessibility in these spaces. Bringing culture closer to society as a whole is a topic of great relevance, and investigating how it has been carried out in cultural spaces and museums is important, and given that no systematic reviews have been performed in this field, we consider this work to be innovative and relevant.


It is necessary to begin with the origin of cultural spaces. According to Martínez (2020), the first museums originated as spaces of restricted access that could only be accessed by certain groups. Cultural exclusion has been very common throughout history, and culture, an asset from which very few benefited. Making museums accessible and making culture available to all is an undeniable and necessary fact that requires the adoption of measures to promote an inclusive culture, regardless of the physical, sensory, intellectual, etc. condition of the people.

The term heritage is composed of a portion of the past that belongs to our present, it is configured from facts and decisions established by other people and that link us all.

Museums are spaces where all the value and culture of society is integrated; in this sense they must be able to undertake actions related to integration, accessibility and inclusion, aiming to provide the opportunity for all people to benefit from them regardless of their disability or condition (BOE, 1978). Museums are entities that imply a common benefit, where history is shared and culture is learned and acquired.

In the twentieth century, especially in recent decades, museums have been adapting significantly, establishing a more diverse and heterogeneous relationship with society, forming innovative, inclusive and global cultural spaces, with a new conception of culture and the way to access it. Step by step they have been consolidating their social function and assessing the experiences and needs of their audiences. Experts working in museums are increasingly aware of the diversity of their visitors, which leads to these cultural spaces becoming more accessible to the entire population, thus providing more and better opportunities to learn (Ibáñez, 2021). It is possible to talk about the museum as a space for social empowerment, with the integration of dialog and emotions, generating a progressive revolution of the museum and cultural spaces, as well as the increase in communication and heritage interpretation, which has progressively transformed the museum into an agent with social responsibility (Fernández Paradas et al., 2017).

According to Jiménez and García, (2020), in COVID-19 times, suddenly museums and cultural spaces were closed and the entire population had to stay at home. The projects, exhibitions, programs, activities, etc., that were being carried out by their employees, had to be canceled. This event posed new challenges, among which changing the paradigm of a classic museum model, with the need to modify its objectives, operation and organization, was a complex goal. This health crisis also had positive aspects, in this sense it gave us the opportunity to develop more inclusive and accessible actions, adapted to the whole society (Pérez-Jorge, et al., 2020; Jorge et al., 2022). The different cultural spaces, including museums, had to reinvent themselves to remain alive and accessible to citizens.

It is true that, throughout history, museums, art galleries, etc., have become formative spaces in the daily life of citizens. Cultural heritage has been developed and created so that the entire population can have access to it, however, it should be noted that there is still room for improvement and that not everything has been done.

The vision of creating accessible museums and cultural spaces involves transforming and modifying the way people think, since an inclusive and/or accessible space, implies improving infrastructures, including new methodologies for people with visual, hearing, motor, etc. disability, and also for other more vulnerable groups (Fernández Paradas et al., 2017). Making it accessible also entails modifying the cultural contents and the message they convey, as the way it is managed changes. Museums and cultural spaces must reach the whole of society and to do so they must adapt to their visitors.

Culture is an universal right, which must be considered from an inclusive perspective, without barriers or limitations that compromise its quality. Inclusive museums provide more specialized activities and actions for people with special needs, provide the opportunity for inclusion and offer options to welcome and address the needs of users in a process of adaptating spaces, materials and entrance limitations, in order to facilitate their full social inclusion.

On the other hand, cultural inclusion can help young people and teenagers to establish their identity; it is heritage that should have a primary role, and therefore the offers of heritage education and museums themselves should be inclusive. To achieve an accessible museum it is important to have a more specialized training of cultural agents working in museums, the most appropriate would be to form groups that teach through cooperative work, and promote more flexible educational projects that could be adapted to the differences and needs of each person. The physical, sensory and cognitive accessibility of the facilities should be improved, since museums and cultural spaces should guarantee equity and equal conditions for all visitors. In this way, activities should be established for all groups that visit these places to improve their integration, rather than focusing on the groups that have more social visibility. For this, we must be sensitive, designing non-discriminatory actions that can ensure equal opportunities.

The institutions that show art are spaces where the rules of coexistence and adaptation to social demands must be complied with. The most interesting aspect of this study is to know the reality of the accessibility exhibited by museums and cultural heritage in order to claim the relevant role they play as educational spaces. It is necessary to establish inclusive and not only accessible cultural spaces, which are dedicated to all audiences and not only to people with specific needs. According to (Quero et al., 2021), museums have employed resources and methods to make these cultural spaces more accessible, integrating accessible “tactile tours” and similar workshops. They have also included Braille brochures of artworks that most of the time include tactile relief graphics, for blind and visually impaired people. Currently, the relief artworks have been developed with the use of 3D printing techniques, as an alternative to improve accessibility for people with visual impairment. They have also been equipped with infrastructures and resources, for those who have motor or displacement difficulties. However, in addition to material resources, as stated by Pablos González, Fontal Merillas (2020), the availability of personnel resources is necessary.

This study provides information on accessibility in museums and cultural spaces by analyzing their evolution from their origins to the present day. The objectives of the study, developed as a systematic review work, are presented, as well as the inclusion and exclusion criteria for the search and selection of sources. The methodology and the results, along with discussion and conclusions, are addressed in the following sections.

This study pursues the following objectives

- To learn about the reality of accessibility and inclusion in museums and cultural spaces from an inclusive perspective.

- To investigate the most important topics related to inclusion, accessibility and cultural heritage.

- To carry out a critical analysis of accessible museums and cultural heritage.


The Dialnet and Web of Science (WOS) databases were used for this study. The selected databases were considered for the appropriateness and affinity of the publications with the field of education. The document search was conducted for the period 2015–2021, aiming to consider the most updated and recent information. Concerning the type of documents, no restriction was applied, with the intention of obtaining the largest number of papers related to the research topic. During the search and review process, various types of documents were found, such as articles, books, dissertations, theses, etc. For this study, a total of 17 journal articles were finally selected. For the selection of the studies considered, the following inclusion and exclusion criteria were applied (Table 1).

Table 1 Inclusion and exclusion criteria.

Description of the sources of information consulted and search descriptors

Three databases were consulted, WOS and Scopus for articles in English and Dialnet for articles in Spanish.

The following descriptors were used to search for information: “accessibility”, “inclusion”, “museums”, “cultural heritage”, “inclusive museums”, “museums and disability”. These descriptors were combined based on the Boolean operators AND and OR.

The search was carried out in the WOS and Scopus databases, always using the topics in English. On the other hand, a search for keywords in Spanish was carried out in the Dialnet database.

The documents were selected after filtering the search, based on the established inclusion and exclusion criteria. Search 1 used combinations of the topics: (museums AND “cultural heritage”) AND education. Search 2 used the terms: (museums AND “cultural heritage”) AND education AND inclusion. For search 3, the descriptors: (museums AND “cultural heritage”) AND accessibility AND education were used and, finally, for search 4, the topics: (museums AND “cultural heritage”) AND accessibility AND inclusion were used.

On the other hand, this process was carried out in Spanish in the Dialnet database, where four searches were also carried out with different combinations. First, the descriptors: “Museums, cultural heritage and accessibility” were used for search 1. Second, search 2 was carried out with the topics: “Museums, cultural heritage, accessibility and education”. For search 3, the following terms were used: “Museums, cultural heritage, education and inclusion”. To conclude the, search 4 was carried out using the following descriptors: “Museums, cultural heritages, accessibility and inclusion”.

It should be noted that more results were found on the Dialnet platform after performing the searches and applying the inclusion and exclusion criteria, with respect to the WOS and Scopus databases.

Document selection method

The method used to perform the appropriate selection of the documents was the following:

- Development of the search in the different databases, inquiring about the key topics.

- Application of inclusion and exclusion criteria to refine the results obtained from the initial searches.

- Extraction of documents using the bibliographic manager Mendeley and elimination of duplicates.

- Selection of documents after review of document titles and reading of abstracts and keywords.

- Complete reading and analysis of the finally selected documents.


Search strategy

Following the procedure outlined above and applying the different inclusion criteria, several searches were carried out in the databases mentioned above, combining the various topics according to the corresponding bolean operators.

First, searches were conducted in the WOS database, in search 1 (museums AND “cultural heritage”) AND education, 432 documents were found in total; after filtering the range of years from 2015 to 2021, 349 articles were obtained. Subsequently, after applying the Open Access criterion, 104 articles were left. Search 2 (museums AND cultural heritage) AND education AND inclusion obtained a total of 23 documents, after applying the criterion of the most recent years, 22 documents were found, out of which 6 were in Open Access and finally 15 were articles. Afterwards, search 3 (museums AND “cultural heritage”) AND accessibility AND education was performed, in which 13 documents were found in total, however, after filtering the criterion of the years 2015–2021, 10 documents were left, 6 of them were in Open Access and 12 were articles.

Finally, we proceeded to search 4 (museums AND “cultural heritage”) AND accessibility AND inclusion, from which a total of 3 documents were obtained, after filtering the most recent years 2015–2021, 3 articles were found in Open Access.

On the other hand, four searches were conducted in the Dialnet database, in Spanish. In search 1: Museums and “cultural heritages” and accessibility, 92 documents were found, but after applying the criterion of the years 2015–2021, 77 documents were left, out of which 76 were journal articles and/or books. In search 2: Museums and “cultural heritages” and accessibility and education, 69 documents were obtained in total, but when filtering the search on the range of the recent years, 63 overall documents were found, 60 being journal articles and/or books. Regarding search 3; Museums, “cultural heritages”, education and inclusion, a total of 67 documents were reached, after applying the range filter between 2015–2021, 62 documents were found, 60 being journal articles and/or books.

To conclude, we proceeded to search 4; museums and “cultural heritages” and accessibility and inclusion, from which a total of 61 documents were obtained; after applying the filter of the range of years between 2010 and 2019, the number decreased to a total of 59, out of which 57 were book and/or journal articles.

After having performed the search procedure by combining the keywords using Booleans, both in Spanish and English, it was possible to select the search finally used. For the Web of Science database the combination was (museums AND “cultural heritage”) AND education AND inclusion”, for the Dialnet search the combination was that corresponding to search 2; museums and “cultural heritage” and accessibility and education.

From all the articles that met the criteria, the following indicators were extracted: author/s, year of publication, document type, purpose of the study, research design used, sample, definition/concept, topic of interest and primary results (see Table 2).

Table 2 Summary of selected documents.

Given that accessibility in museums and cultural heritages is a relevant topic today, the articles reviewed were published between 2015 and 2021, as already explained. From these articles and based on the research methodology they followed, 10 were qualitative studies and 7 were mixed studies with qualitative and quantitative methodology. The final scheme of selected and excluded sources was established as reflected in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Flow chart document.

Analysis of the selected sources

According to Melgar, Elisondo (2017), museums began to be entities classified in non-formal education for conservation, research, training and leisure purposes, although, as they rightly point out these spaces have been criticized for being considered elitist, not very dynamic and boring. However, this conception changed in the mid-twentieth century, considering museums as social change agents. These institutions ceased to be spaces of conservation and exhibition and became places of communication with society.

García-Sampedro and Gutiérrez Berciano (2018) talk about how museums were considered public entities that responded to certain policies, with the aim of facilitating users simply to contemplate the works made. However, nowadays the functions have changed, and museums have become more flexible institutions in terms of cultural policies and adapt themselves to the needs of their visitors. New concepts such as “new museology”, “critical museology” and/or “didactic museum perspectives” have emerged (Martínez et al., 2017). These authors highlight the work of the museum today, these spaces are not only based on the maintenance of the collections on display, but also encompass functions such as training and communication within these spaces, to promote knowledge. Cultural and artistic activities are carried out in these spaces, including theater, dance, training, seminars, workshops, and in many cases, they have libraries or study rooms. The museum is considered as a point of reference of the cultural field to which all citizens can access.

Cagigal (2017) highlights that museums have been changing due to the influence of the digital era, specifically due to social networks and the large amount of information found on the internet (big data), since they share two aspects: “memory and social communication”. In addition, through technologies these spaces offer more means of information gathering and exhibition.

Ponce-Delgado and Oliva (2020) address the concept of cultural heritage and how it has been modified throughout history, according to the historical period and the changes that have occurred. Cultural heritage should promote the conservation of the set of objects, and scientific findings, but it should also share knowledge and exhibit collections, in order to promote culture and knowledge.

Martínez and Calderón (2016) address the accessibility of museums and inquire into the evolution of museums and cultural heritages, as inclusive and accessible spaces. They pointed out that the concept of “museum” has been modified, becoming spaces for learning, knowledge, and training, and not as exhibition places without any educational purpose. They consider that the museum should be a place accessible to all people, regardless of their condition and guaranteeing accessible spaces without barriers.

Along the same lines, the study by Martínez et al. (2017) points out that cultural spaces should be places within the reach of all citizens, without any type of discrimination, and without limitations. These places of leisure and learning should be adapted to all types of users, offering specific activities for people with special needs, with the aim of bringing culture closer to the whole society and fostering its inclusion. It is necessary to change the contents on display, the message they convey, the perspective of the employees who work there, etc., in response to the demands of new users.

As Chiscano and Jiménez-Zarco (2021) point out, the idea of inclusion in museums and cultural spaces is an advance in our history. They should be places of pedagogical use, in which activities and/or actions are carried out for all people, including people with more difficulties. They point out that they should offer more activities for people with disabilities, claiming the need to turn them into true inclusive spaces.

Fernández Paradas et al. (2017) estimate that museums should be considered as institutions with social responsibility. Museums have been modified themselves, providing a more accessible, inclusive, more flexible place, with more “open” ideologies. The authors point out that not all museums act in the same way, however, the primary commitment of museums should be based on social engagement to educate all citizens.


Museums and cultural heritages have been modified from past times to the present, they have become public places, where the needs and interests of their visitors must be addressed, since they offer the opportunity to learn and be trained in other educational contexts. Education is a fundamental right of people and should be available to all individuals, without any discrimination or differential circumstances (Jorge and Hernández, 2012).

Museums were traditionally considered as public entities dedicated to the exhibition of artwork and collections, visitors had a specific profile, most were educated people, and interested in this field. Fortunately, the change of paradigm in terms of the scope to be covered by education, has favored these spaces to focus on the needs of their visitors and not exclusively on the events or historical facts they treasure. Citizens need to actively participate in the visits and learning experiences that these places can provide, in this sense, the visit itself has to become a moment of reunion and social communication (Fernández Paradas et al., 2017).

The meaning of “cultural heritage” has been changing and today it must be understood as a dynamic fact exposed and subject to changes in the learning experience. Museums teach, but also transform with the participation of citizens, in this sense we can understand that universal access is an opportunity to change and update our cultural spaces and museums (Martínez et al., 2019; Ponce-Delgado and Oliva, 2020).

In this sense and as stated by Martínez and Calderón (2016) museums are becoming increasingly accessible and inclusive public spaces, more sensitive towards the changes and improvements they have to undertake to be able to welcome any citizen, regardless of their physical characteristics, personal conditions, gender, race, culture, etc., They have to adapt their contents to the conditions and social changes of the society that sustains them and they have to become comfortable spaces that people want to approach and immerse themselves in. Hence, new forms of management, new functions and new objectives are required.

They must be places without physical or ideological barriers, providing physical, sensory, cognitive, etc., resources to promote better inclusion in culture and its spaces. These institutions should adapt to the demands and needs of the population, offering more activities in which any minority can be included. Martínez-Carrillo et al. (2019).

Museums have also adapted to the present and to new technologies, due to the large amount of information found on the internet and the advance of social networks and the media (Cagigal, 2017), so that, through technologies, these institutions have expanded the means of information collection and in turn the exhibition. The use of social networks has been a good resource to expand culture to the entire population, and thanks to websites, more information about these spaces can be found.


After the systematic review carried out, we can conclude that it is necessary to reflect on how these cultural spaces have been evolving and transforming, their accessibility as well as their adaptation to the new times, needs and demands of the public. Museums and other cultural spaces have ceased to be elitist centers dedicated to very specific areas and purposes to become open centers of participation and communication where not only needs are met but also the concerns of a society that increasingly wants to know. Culture, as an important factor in the development of society, is a universal asset and right that must be provided without exclusion, one of its objectives being showing and teaching about the different areas it encompasses: history, music, painting and other arts. The need to make the cultural offer reaching the entire population without exclusion means that more and more efforts are being made and more resources are being devoted to break down barriers, not only physical and sensory, but also to capture the attention of all audiences regardless of their ability to understand. To achieve this, it has been necessary not only to adapt content but also to find the ways and means that best suit each need and concern.

Cultural heritage, and within it museums, are not static spaces, but evolve with time and social demands. They are spaces open to knowledge in an increasingly interactive and participatory manner that guarantees free access to the entire population regardless of their condition, cultural level and vulnerability. It is the responsibility of all public and private institutions to guarantee the preservation and dissemination of culture and heritage. It is vitally important to make every effort to create an inclusive culture in an increasingly diverse society, with unequal needs where respect, equity and positive recognition of diversity are encouraged.


After the completion of this work, we have been able to ascertain the difficulties in accessing some documents not published in Open Access. The multidisciplinary nature of the topic has made it possible to demonstrate the interest in an increasingly current and latent subject that is approached from very different perspectives (architecture, museology, etc.), which has made it difficult to search for the educational dimension and approach and the training possibilities that museums can offer to the general public.