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Colombia Launches a Museum Where Everyone Sees

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following article is re-printed from Disability World, v.6, Jan-Feb 2001.

In recent years, museums around the world have been extending their educational missions, adopting strategies to attract new publics. In the case of Colombia, new constitutional requirements demand that persons with disabilities be integrated into the country's cultural and educational life. Thus, in March 1999, the National Museum of Colombia in Bogota launched "A Museum Where Everyone Sees," the first phase of a program to provide museum access for persons with visual impairments. Requiring more than printing material in Braille, this new approach rests on innovative design techniques that enable blind people to touch artifacts and paintings in the collection to enhance information they get from a guidebook or museum catalogue. The National Museum of Colombia consulted with other museums in the region who pioneered this aspect of producing exhibitions, including the Museum of Art of the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil and various Venezuelan museums

With support from the Ministry of Culture and a grant from British Petroleum, the museum installed a special audio technology that helps blind persons "see" historical and archeological pieces on exhibit. It then coordinated with the Center for the Rehabilitation of Blind Adults to attract groups with visual disabilities

The "Museum Where Everyone Sees" has eight stations where visitors with visual impairments receive guided explanations of selected pieces, touch reproductions from the museum's prehistoric peoples and first settlers collections, and hear audio interpretations activated by sensors in hand-held "phones." In the Hall of the Founders of the Republic, visitors can touch reproductions of paintings mounted on stands and discern different poses of Simon Bolivar while they hear a reading from the "Rights of Man and Citizens" by Antonio Narino

In 1975 the National Museum was declared a national monument, so making renovations to accommodate groups with special needs takes care and time. Future plans call for a specially equipped bathroom on the first floor and access to the museum store and cafe. Currently, persons with disabilities are limited to the first floor of the museum until an elevator can be installed and other architectural barriers eliminated. These changes will take place as other transformations are accomplished outside museum walls, including audio traffic lights and access ramps at street intersections

For those involved in this initiative, the "Museum Where Everyone Sees" has become a symbol-itself an access ramp that opens ownership of the National Museum to all without distinction to enjoy the spirit of what it is to be Colombian .

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