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.
The APH Museum is a shining example of what accessibility in museums should look like. Obviously, given the subject matter, it had better be accessible. But the museum goes above and beyond the minimum accessibility requirements.
The physical layout of the museum is very accessible. The 1883 Gallery, which tracks the history of APH from its start in 1858 to the beginning of the twenty-first century, follows counter-clockwise around the walls of the exhibit area, with a “reading rail” to guide visitors around. The Callahan Gallery, which tells the history of education for people who are blind, is attached to the other gallery and also features a reading rail.
There is braille and audio all over the place. Each object has a braille label near it. One section asks visitors to vote for a system of writing for the blind–braille or New York Point–in what is commonly known as the “War of the Dots.” The visitor is asked to read several quotes by famous people in the blindness field like Helen Keller and Samuel Gridley Howe, and then vote using small pebbles. All of the quotes are available in braille. Along the reading rail in both galleries, visitors can also use audio wands, which read aloud the contents of longer text panels. There are several videos in the museum, which are all closed-captioned for visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Making text and videos accessible is one thing, but the museum and its director, Micheal Hudson, take accessibility one step farther. The museum lets–no, encourages–visitors to touch the objects. Many of the objects are not behind glass, readily available to blind children and adults–and sighted people, too–who want to explore the objects with their hands. Some objects are behind glass, but not locked away. So, if someone wants to explore it, museum staff tell them to go ahead and open the glass cover. Some of the touchable objects include a tactile, 30″ diameter floor pedestal globe, canes, historic slates and styluses for writing braille, and an early talking calculator.
The museum hosts programs every month, many of which are fun and accessible for both sighted kids and kids who are blind or visually impaired. Each Halloween, the museums holds a mask-making workshop with accessible, tactile materials like pipe cleaners, glitter, and felt.
The museum is open Monday – Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, and Saturdays from 10 am to 3 pm. Whether you’re blind or sighted, this is a fun, accessible museum for everyone!
*All photos courtesy of the Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind