Online Accessibility Training

Learning Tool:
Touch Tours and Other Tactile Experiences

Definition
For many people, touch is the primary way to acquire information or access a work of art. For others, tactile experiences help to complete their mental image of an object. In addition to touching original works of art, tactile experiences include: replicas, models, props, handling objects which convey one aspect of the work, and contemporary art made to be touched.

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How Museums Use Touch (:60)

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How Museums Use Touch (1:27)

Examples

Tactile Museums
Museums in many countries provide architectural and sculptural models that make masterpieces accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. Exact plaster copies of original sculptures can be touched, and architectural structures reproduced as small-scale tactile models offer opportunities to explore the exterior and interior of a building.

Guided Touch Tour
Docent and blind woman touching sculpture
Touch Tour, Cummer Museum.
Jacksonville, FL


Many art museums and galleries offer visitors who are blind or visually impaired the opportunity to touch original artworks, displayed either in the galleries or in an alternative space. A trained education professional or docent guides the tour. A team of conservation and museum education professionals chooses the works, which are usually thematic or representative of the museum or gallery collection.

Erin Narloch, Woodson Art Museum (2:37)

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Erin Narloch, Woodson Museum of Art, Wausau, WI on Woodson’s Sculpture Garden Touch Tour

Self-Guided Touch Tour

Blind man touches face of Egyptian sphinx sculpture
Self-Guided Touch Tour,
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Some museums allow blind and visually impaired visitors to explore art on their own in the museum’s galleries. Touchable objects are identified by braille and large-print labels, or by instructions in a recorded audio tour. This option requires security personnel to receive additional training.

 

 

Rebecca McGinniss Metropolitan Museum of Art (5:32)

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Rebecca McGinniss, Access Coordinator, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, on the Met’s Egyptian Touch Tour

Handling Sessions

Close up of a man’s hands touching an African mask
Handling African mask

Some museums offer visitors in-depth tactile investigation of selected works, frequently in an alternate space. It is crucial that this not become a “segregated” program, but rather a supplementary educational approach to gallery programming. Some stimulate the user’s imagination and metaphorical thinking. For example, educators at the Tate Modern use splintered Plexiglas to recreate the quality of some of Pablo Picasso’s Spanish Civil War paintings. In the same program, silicone breast implants convey the paradoxical quality of some of Salvador Dali’s Surrealist paintings

Three-Dimensional Models
A three-dimensional model can supplement a touch tour in the galleries when an artwork is two-dimensional or oversized and so cannot be fully explored through touch,

Replicas, Facsimiles, and Props

Docent and blind man touching sculpture replica
Touching Sumerian sculpture replica
Los Angeles Braille Institute

Art and historical museums sometimes use three-dimensional props, and replicas of the objects depicted in a work of art to make it accessible to visitors who are blind or visually impaired.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three-Dimensional Interpretations and Relief Sculptures
Three-dimensional interpretations can recreate not only basic composition and color but also translate stylistic properties such as texture and brushwork into a touchable experience.

Original altar piece hanging in museum Hands touching a tactile reproduction of the altar piece
Original altarpiece and tactile reproductions, Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama

Contemporary Artworks Made to Be Touched

Sculpture by artist Ann Cunningham
The Nest (slate) by Ann Cunningham

Many artists, both sighted and visually impaired, expressly create tactile and multisensory works of art for blind and visually impaired people to explore.

 

 

 

Debbie Hegstrom Minneapolis Institute of Arts (1:35)

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Debbi Hegstrom, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN on the Touch Tour as Universal Design

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Practical Considerations:

TIPS FOR GIVING A GUIDED TOUCH TOUR

  1. When welcoming and meeting a group, in addition to your standard introduction you should give a verbal description of the space you are in to help orient people.
  2. As you move from one gallery space to another, give brief verbal descriptions of the spaces you pass through, even if they are not on the tour. A few words are enough and will give visitors a sense of the scope of the exhibition or museum.
  3. Limit guided touch tours to 3-5 objects.
  4. Keep the tour group small, 3-6 people at most. While one or two people are exploring by touch, give background verbally to others waiting.
  5. While visitors explore a work, encourage dialogue and responses.
  6. When choosing objects for the tour, be aware of the pedestal height and the object scale relative to the viewer. It’s best if visitors can reach all parts of the object. If not provide tactile diagrams.
  7. In a guided touch tour, like a verbal-description tour, you must allow additional time for visitors to process tactile experiences.
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See a Guided Touch Tour (2:30)

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See a Guided Touch Tour (2:57)

  • Any interactive program is appropriate for tactile experiences. Docents and lecturers can be trained to include a tactile-friendly work on their public tours. Keep in mind that introducing a tactile element requires more time for your tour or program.
  • Tactile experiences are appropriate for a variety of audiences, not only those who are visually impaired. People with developmental or cognitive disabilities may benefit by the introduction of multi-sensory information. But just about everyone enjoys objects which give a sense of textures, weight, and the feel of objects in art or historical depictions. Applying this tool to a broad audience may help in fundraising.
  • Make sure you include Verbal Description of your tactile objects and experiences. Try to make the verbal description, along with other background information, available before the museum visit, either on your website, in a mailing packet, or at your information desk or gift shop.
  • If possible, get involved with the early stages of planning the exhibition. This makes it easier for your advisors to gather the resources and objects necessary for your touch tour. Your curators may also find objects that are appropriate during their searches (this is particularly relevant for historical, natural history, or science museums.) This participation also brings accessibility issues and awareness to other museum staff.
  • Many of these techniques can be adapted to the classroom for pre or post-museum visit sessions, including: handling sessions and other tactile experiences; replicas, models, facsimiles, and props; and tactile diagrams with verbal guidance of the hands.
  • If you normally charge for tours, consider offering one day of free touch tours. This creates publicity for your accessibility program, and allows for feedback and involvement in your museum from people with disabilities. This type of outreach creates an opportunity for visitors with disabilities to understand what your museum has to offer and encourages support of your efforts.

How to Buy It or Make It…Cheap and Easy

  • Discuss with curators and conservators objects that may be appropriate for touch. They may also have ideas on how to recreate the work, or how to find comparable materials or objects, perhaps from a study collection or objects for deaccession.
  • Your museum store may have replicas or models of objects from the collection.
  • Check out online replica or reproductions sources, particularly of historical or ethnographic objects.
  • Commission local artists to create tactile interpretations of these works. A competition or award could be used to elicit selections.
  • Look to staff members’ hidden talents. Are there any model makers or artists on staff? Ask them to create an architectural model of the museum, elevation or floor plan. Use textured cloths and papers on floors and walls to help users distinguish different rooms or areas of the model.
  • Craft and hardware stores are good sources for props and objects for handling sessions.
  • With a little imagination, use ordinary household objects to enhance the tour and encourage discussion.
  • For utilitarian objects, flea markets and online auction sites like EBay may be a good source for comparable objects and reproductions.

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