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Tactile Access Is Still Tops For Blind Patrons

I am an avid history lover! I love to travel and always try to visit local museums wherever I go.

I am outraged over the looting of museums in Iraq following the American invasion and the subsequent traffic in artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia.

As a lover of history's relics, I am fully cognizant of how important it is to protect the irreplaceable items from past civilizations that are housed in the world's museums. However, some museums do provide access, so why can't others?

In Copenhagen, Denmark, I visited the Ni Carlsberg Glyptotek, which has a wonderful collection from ancient times, and almost all of their collection is touchable by any visitor. All they ask is that you put on a pair of light, cotton gloves so that the oils from your fingers won't damage the items on display.

The Tactual Museum in the Athens quarter of Kallithea, opened in 1984, displays exact, original-size plaster copies of more than 80 works of ancient Greek masterpieces and bas-relief representations, including famous statues such as the Venus de Milo, the Charioteer of Delphi and the Zeus or Poseidon of Artemision.

Accessible clay models of the Athens Acropolis with its landmark Parthenon temple are also on show.

In Turkey, many museums' collections were totally touchable, and in the United Kingdom I have had many special tours where I was allowed to touch various items that are normally out of reach behind ropes.

Some Canadian museums are also making great strides towards increasing their collections' accessibility. The Museum of Civilization and Man in Gatineau, Quebec, has a lot of touchable items on display, and regularly offers special tours through appointment.

While in Saskatoon to attend the Annual General Meeting in May, 2004, several NFB:AE members visited the Museum of Antiquities at the University of Saskatchewan, which houses a permanent collection of full-scale replicas of ancient Greek, Roman and Medieval sculptures, made with exacting craftsmanship by the Louvre in Paris. The museum also features ancient military and domestic artifacts and a comprehensive collection of ancient Greek, Roman and Medieval coinage.

Canada's national broadcaster, the CBC, has a museum in its Toronto headquarters building. It includes an area containing microphones from throughout the last half-century, an old control board, and a wall full of buttons that you can punch to watch examples of CBC shows from down through the years.

Some museums produce "audio guides", which provide a self-guided tour of a portion of a collection or special display.

There are many things a museum can do to enable patrons who are blind to more fully enjoy their experience, including the following:

  • Provide brochures in large print, braille or on cassette;
  • Ensure websites describing the collection are fully usable by individuals using adaptive technology;
  • Provide a verbal explanation of charts and photos at a lecture;
  • Ensure staff is trained to provide a welcoming environment;
  • Offer audio guides describing items in the collection;
  • Provide special tours, where items ordinarily roped off can be touched.

For blind visitors, there is no substitute for being able to run your fingers over an item, feeling its shape, texture and detail-appreciating fully the craftsmanship of the sculptor. Canadian museums can learn much from their counterparts around the world.

Photo: Hand running over a sculpture at the Tactual Museum

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