Kathryn Potts, Director of Education, Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC Whitney Museum - Consultants for Accessibility 4:05
The first step that we did was to organize a sensitivity and awareness training about blindness and visual impairments, and as with all the trainings we did for this project, the program was led by both sighted and blind consultants. I can’t stress how important this was; we were able to get immediate feedback, as well as real experience working with a blind audience. I think that to have the blind consultants be part of the training broke the ice for our group. I think all of us were a little shy about working with blind consultants at first, and since each of the trainings included this kind of hands-on component it forced all of us, docents and me included, to be participants rather than observers. One of the aspects of the training that I thought was really effective is that we discussed different kinds of vision impairments and we put on these special glasses (I’m sure most of you have done this) that simulate different vision problems so we could actually see though the perspective of a person with a variety of different visual impairments. I think it really made it real for us in a way that it hadn’t up until that point. At this training we also reviewed basic guide techniques, things that you wouldn't necessarily think about when you are talking about giving a training for people that don't have vision issues. There are things like, how do you help a blind person move safely and comfortably through a crowded gallery? That is not a no brainier when you are talking about one or two people in a group that maybe have canes or might even have a guide dogs. We had questions that we were able to ask the blind consultants like: Is it okay to touch a person who is blind? How do you introduce yourself -- what’s the protocol? We talked about guide dogs and the protocols related to that. We also just spent a fair amount of time listening to the consultants talk about their experiences, both in art making and museum going. Then to be totally frank, we asked them all those questions that we really wanted to know, but we were kind of afraid to ask like: Should we/how should we describe colors to people that have never had sight? Can we say, ‘look here’ when we are talking to someone who can’t see? And then the 24,000 dollar question, why do you want to go to an art museum if you can’t see?
The next phase of our training really involved our graduate student lecturers. We asked each of them to present a verbal description of our lobby. This was a suggestion from Art Beyond Sight, and I have to confess this never occurred to me, but if you think about it, how people enter your museum, the lobby is the orientation point of entry for every person coming, and it was really important to us how we introduced the spaces in the lobby. Our lobby is actually not a welcoming place, it is a little daunting even if you can see, so we talked about some strategies for getting people through the space and the architecture, and where they were, to create some kind of context. Then each of our graduate student lecturers presented a single iconic work from our collection. The blind consultants came back again to take part in this training, and they served as a kind of sounding board for us, and they gave us constructive criticism that was really invaluable.