by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern
Historically, museums and galleries have been regarded as optic places, where people would browse and view works of art. These institutions offered limited opportunities for multi-sensory involvement and were often considered inaccessible to patrons who were blind or visually impaired. Over the years, the once observed “Do Not Touch” mindset shifted as museums and galleries worked to ensure the accessibility of their exhibits and patrons’ visiting experiences. The addition of services such as audio descriptive displays, comprehensive audio guides, and tactile exhibits utilizing 3D printing has made previously inaccessible institutions and works of art accessible. This approach can be traced to the founding of the Museum for the Blind in Spain in 1992. The museum featured scaled models of famous buildings and tactile paintings, sculptures, and textiles. It also spotlighted art created by artists who were blind or visually impaired as well as art related to blindness. Subsequently, many institutions worldwide have gotten onboard with the accessible art movement, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C., the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond Virginia, and the National Gallery of Prague in Czechia. Many institutions now offer guided tours designed specifically for visitors who are visually impaired, both in-person and online. Museums and galleries have also created in-person virtual reality tours with 3D printed art and artifacts so that people may experience them in a new way. This technology, as it continues to grow, has created accessible exhibits that bring new audiences to the museums. For more information, read the Museum Next article, “How museums can remove barriers to access for blind and partially sighted people”.