Viewing Art with Your Ears and Objects with Your Hands
December 17, 2018
By Molissa Udevitz, Museum Educator
A museum visit is a visual experience for most people: Visitors look closely at paintings, sculptures, installations and artifacts, and learn about objects by reading wall text. But, how can a museum provide access and meaningful experiences for individuals with limited or no sight?
Recently, a blind patron contacted us before her visit, asking how we might help her get the most out of her museum experience. Our education staff was happy to develop some assistive materials to help visitors with visual limitations have a meaningful museum experience.
The museum now has visual descriptions in audio format for some art pieces in the Art of the North galleries. These are recorded audio files that first state the title, artist and other label text. A detailed description of the artwork follows, giving listeners a rich idea of the artwork’s appearance. An accompanying map indicates where the artworks are located so a sighted companion can guide an individual with limited sight to the objects. These audio-format visual descriptions will be available on our website, so anyone can listen to them on a personal device.
GUIDED BY TOUCH
When the visitor who inspired us and her companion came to the museum, we took them on a guided tactile tour of the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center. The guide talked about Alaska Native culture groups, described objects in the gallery and provided related objects and materials to touch. Our visitors touched and held an Athabascan-style beaded belt while learning about bead work and Russian trade beads. They also felt seal gut while hearing about Iñupiaq seal hunters and seal gut parkas.
Visual descriptions and tactile tours are part of the museum’s ongoing efforts to increase accessibility, which also include offering museum experiences to people with sensory sensitivities and other special needs when the building is closed to the public. We also offer other adaptations to school special education classes and partner with local organizations supporting families with special needs.
Visitors who would like to discuss accessibility or would like assistance planning an upcoming visit may email our Education Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit our accessibility section to learn more.