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
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.
Times: 2nd Saturday each month at 10am, the 4th Wednesday each month at 1pm, and by reservation with 3 weeks notice
2. American Museum of Natural History
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
3. San Antonio Museum of Art
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 email@example.com
4. The Walters Art Museum
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.
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
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
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.
Times: By appointment only
7. Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum
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: firstname.lastname@example.org or 646-381-5182
8. U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
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.”
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Have you been on any Touch Tours that you recommend?