8 Awesome Museums with “Touch Tours” for Visitors who are Blind or Visually Impaired

Many people who are blind and visually impaired are not fans of museums because the experience is very dependent on vision. Recently though, museums have begun to realize the benefits of increasing accessibility for people who are blind and visually impaired and other people with disabilities. “Touch Tours” are one way museums can enhance the experience for blind visitors. These tours are usually led by trained staff members who give extensive audio descriptions of the exhibits, and allow visitors to touch original pieces and representative models. Spain’s Museo del Prado has been making headlines for its new tours for visually impaired visitors.

Here are 8 cool US museums with “touch tours”:

1. Birmingham Museum of Art

two visitors touching art Credit: Birmingham Museum of Art

The Birmingham Museum of Art features over 26,000 works of art dating from ancient to modern times, and includes a 30,000 sq. ft. sculpture garden. The Museum offers a “Visually Impaired Program” featuring audio description, touchable original pieces and models, related music, and art-making for a full, multi-sensory experience. Drop-in tours focus on a specific aspect of the exhibits and topics change each month.

Price: Free
Times: 2nd Saturday each month at 10am, the 4th Wednesday each month at 1pm, and by reservation with 3 weeks notice
Contact: 205.254.2964

2. American Museum of Natural History

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Founded in 1869, “the Museum is renowned for its exhibitions and scientific collections, which serve as a field guide to the entire planet and present a panorama of the world’s cultures.” Permanent exhibits feature dinosaur fossils like the one pictured above, rare gems and minerals, ocean life, and much more. The museum offers “Science Sense Tours” for visitors who are blind. Visitors will explore specific exhibit themes through touch and verbal descriptions.

Cost: Regular admission
Times: Monthly (upcoming dates listed on tour page), by appointment with 2 weeks advance notice
Contact: (212)313-7565 or email accessibility@amnh.org

3. San Antonio Museum of Art

Street view of San Antonio Museum of Art Credit: TripAdvisor

The San Antonio Art Museum holds a vast collection of art from the Americas, including pre-Colombian art and a collection of Latin American Folk Art. It also has a huge collection of Chinese ceramics and art from the ancient Mediterranean world. The Museum offers guided tours of the galleries, and includes touch, verbal descriptions, sounds, and even smells!

Cost: regular admission
Times: 10 am the first Saturday of each month, or by appointment
Contact: (210) 978-8138 or email tours@samuseum.org

4. The Walters Art Museum

Inside the Walters Art Museum Credit: TripAdvisor

According to its website, “The Walters Art Museum is one of only a few museums in the world to present a panorama of art from the third millennium B.C. to the early 20th century. The thousands of treasures range from mummies to arms and armor, from old master paintings to Art Nouveau jewelry…Renaissance and Asian art and a spectacular reserve of illuminated manuscripts and rare books.” Located in Baltimore, MD, the museum offers Touch Tours to groups of 5 to 15 blind or visually impaired people. Tours focus on sculptures, but may also incorporate verbal descriptions of various related paintings and other art.

Price: Free
Times: By appointment only, must give 3 weeks advanced notice
Contact: John Shields, Manager of Docent Programs, at 410-547-9000, ext 235 or register online

5. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

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Known worldwide for its collection of Asian, European, and American art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, located in Kansas City, offers a tactile tour exploring contemporary art.

Price: Free
Times: Only by appointment to organizations or groups with blind members, maximum size of 9
Contact: Sign-up Online for an Adult Tour or call 816.751.1278

6. The Columbus Museum

Inside of Columbus Museum Credit: visitcolumbusga.com

The Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia is a regional art and history museum, one of the largest in the Southeast. The museum offers a Touch Tour, which explores areas of the permanent collection, including the tactile exploration of 3D models based on 2D paintings. Music is also incorporated in these tours.

Price: Free
By appointment only

7. Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum

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The Intrepid Museum is comprised of the World War II-era Intrepid aircraft carrier, the space shuttle Enterprise, the Growler submarine, and the British Airways Concorde plane. Definitely a place to visit for science and history nerds! The museum offers guided touch tours of aircraft, models, and tactile images.

Price: regular admission
Times: By appointment only, with 2 weeks notice
Contact: access@intrepidmuseum.org or 646-381-5182

8. U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

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The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum collects and exhibits the history of the Holocaust, from the Nazis’ rise to power, through World War II, and its aftermath. The Guided Highlights Tour, 2 to 3 hours long, features “visually descriptive language, touchable reproductions of several key artifacts, and a model of the Museum. It also provides visitors with a variety of visual aids, including a monocular, flashlights, and high-contrast black-and-white photographs.”

Cost: Free
By appointment, recommended to start between 9:30am and 1pm
GHT@ushmm.org, Online form, 202. 488.6100

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Have you been on any Touch Tours that you recommend?


What is a Disability Advocate?

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Image caption: Young women in India holding up signs that say “I’m here because I value diversity and inclusion in disability,” “I am here because I believe in active living for a person with disability,” “I am here because I stand for disability rights,” “Say no to electric shocks,” and a few others.

Stranger: What do you do?
Me: I’m a disability advocate.
Stranger: *Blank stare* Oh. *changes subject*

If I had a dollar for every time I had this or similar–“Is that like teaching special needs kids or something?”–interactions with someone, I certainly would have less student loan debt! Seriously, though, people tend to become very uncomfortable when I mention this passion and career of mine. The discomfort is partly due to society’s fear and of and misconceptions about disability. It is also due to a lack of understanding about what a disability advocate actually is. If you told someone you were an astrophysicist, for example, they may not know the particulars of your job, but they have at least heard of it. As best I can, I want to clarify what a disability advocate is and does. Continue reading What is a Disability Advocate?

The New $10 Bill: Will It Be Accessible?

Front face of US $10 billThe U.S. Treasury announced last week that the new $10 bill, to be released  in 2020, will feature a woman. This is fantastic news! The other great thing about the bill is its potential accessibility to people who are blind and visually impaired. Continue reading The New $10 Bill: Will It Be Accessible?

Seven Dwarfs, No Fairy Tale

Cover of Giants: Dwarfs of Auschwitz

While perusing the Smithsonian Channel, I saw an advertisement for a new documentary called The Seven Dwarfs of Auschwitz. This immediately caught my attention, so I read the description and discovered a book had also been published on the same topic. Giants: the Dwarfs of Auschwitz, written by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, was originally published in 2003 and re-released in 2013 with a Forward by Warwick Davis, who is also featured in the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary. Although at times tinged with ableism, this is, without exaggeration, one of the best books of nonfiction I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Continue reading Seven Dwarfs, No Fairy Tale

#MuseumMonday: the Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind

Each Monday, I will blog about accessibility in museums and cultural institutions. For my first post in this series, I want to write about a museum that is very near and dear to my heart: the Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind. The day after we moved to Louisville in 2010, I attended an exhibit opening at the museum. The exhibit featured the history of orientation and mobility (O&M) tools for people who are blind. Since that day, I’ve been involved with the museum in one way or another–first as an intern, then as a volunteer, then as the Social Media Coordinator for the company as a whole who promoted the museum and its events. Continue reading #MuseumMonday: the Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind