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Accessible Museum / Blind

Best Practice Case Study: Penn Museum’s Touch Tours

Penn Museum Offers Innovative “Touch Tours” for Blind Visitors

Penn Museum’s Innovative “Touch Tours” Ancient Egyptian Culture Program,
Designed with and for Visitors with Blindness or Low Vision,
Expands in its Second Season

“This tour provided the chance of a life time to get up close to some fantastic objects that the ancient Egyptians regarded as commonplace. Not many people, either sighted or visually impaired, would ever have the opportunity to place their hands where craftsmen’s hands toiled thousands of years ago.”

-—2012 Touch Tours visitor Rita Lang, Manager of Innovative Programs and Volunteers, Center for Vision Loss, Lehigh Valley, PA

PHILADELPHIA, PA 2013—Following a successful pilot season in the fall of 2012, the “Insights into Ancient Egypt” Touch Tours program at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia, designed with and for Museum visitors who are blind or have low vision, is expanding, thanks to extensive input and feedback from members of the community.

The second season of the “Insights into Ancient Egypt” Touch Tour program begins Monday, September 30, with longer visits and a host of innovative changes. The program expands from one to two hours, as guests are invited to discover ancient Egyptian culture through a new classroom learning experience, with tactile diagrams, through connections with both long-time Museum docents and new assistant docents with visual impairment, and through new opportunities for artistic expression. The central gallery experience—exploring through touch several ancient Egyptian artifacts on display—continues with new pieces and specially made replicas.

Trish Maunder, Project Coordinator for Special Tours and a disabilities program consultant for the Museum, worked with Egyptian section Associate Curator Jennifer Wegner, the Museum’s Community Engagement Department, and many volunteer Museum docents to develop the program and its expanded offerings. Through focus groups and feedback from low and no-vision guests, she learned that participants wanted more information, educational opportunities, and even outlets for artistic expression—all included in this season’s offerings.

In a new classroom component of the program, guests will be invited to explore replicas of smaller ancient Egyptian artifacts—many used for, or associated with, mummification: a brain hook, canopic jars for internal organs, stone scarabs and other small statues. The experience also includes tactile diagrams (raised line diagrams) and opportunities to smell some of the oils used in mummification: frankincense, myrrh, and cedar oil.

The touch tours, this year facilitated by both lead and assistant (visually impaired) docents, feature closeencounters withancient Egyptian stone artifacts, including a seated statue of Ramesses II, the Goddess Sekhmet, and two sarcophagus lids, all found in the third floor Egyptian gallery. Before touching the ancient artifacts participants are asked to use sanitized hand wipes to remove oils.

Also new this year are pre-visit outreach sessions at several sites to better prepare visitors, and an art-in-response component, coordinated in partnership with several organizations including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Allens Lane Art Center, the Main Line Art Center, and the Overbrook School for the Blind.

“Many visitors from our program last year reported a significant shift in awareness and a sense of inspiration from the ancient world,” noted Ms. Maunder. “We wanted to honor that experience, and help create opportunities for further discovery.”

Most of the fall Touch Tour programs, which run Monday mornings and afternoons (when the Museum is usually closed) through December 16, are booked, but some spaces remain for both individuals and groups with members who are living with blindness or visual impairment. For more information about the program and available times, contact Trish Maunder at 609.760.8223 or

The 2013 Penn Museum Touch Tour programs are free to participants. The program was launched in 2012 through lead funding from the Albert B. Millett Memorial Fund and additional support from the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation and the Scholler Foundation; the 2013 program is made possible through the generosity of Annette Merle-Smith.

The Penn Museum (the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 300 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind’s collective heritage.

The Penn Museum is located at 3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (on Penn’s campus, across from Franklin Field). Public transportation to the Museum is available via SEPTA’s Regional Rail Line at University City Station; the Market-Frankford Subway Line at 34th Street Station; trolley routes 11, 13, 34, and 36; and bus routes 21, 30, 40, and 42. Museum hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and first Wednesdays of each month, 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, with P.M. @ PENN MUSEUM evening programs. Closed Mondays and holidays. Admission donation is $15 for adults; $13 for senior citizens (65 and above); $10 for children (6 to 17) and full-time students with ID; free for active U.S. Military; free to Members, PennCard holders, and children 5 and younger.


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