Museums: Helpful Hints to Assure a Meaningful and Memorable Visit for Blind and Visually Impaired
By Patricia M Brown
1. First and foremost, be sure to follow American’s with Disabilities Act 1990/ADA (amended) accommodation recommendations. These recommendations are important to the safety and accessibility of your Blind and Visually Impaired individual. Be familiar with amended or updated ADA regulations.
2. Follow American’s with Disabilities Act 1990/ADA guidelines for Braille signage.
3. Consider a large print bound copy of your museum guide, pamphlets, handouts or educational materials. Large print materials may be offered as a print bound copy that is re-usable or as a “Take Away” item that can be taken as a resource or reference item. Large print is usually considered 14-16 point print or larger (16 or 18 point print would be sufficient to assist many visually impaired individuals.) Materials should be presented in a high contrast and bold simple font on plain white background. Large print materials will assist many of your visually impaired visitors.
4. Be sure to offer good lighting on all print materials throughout your museum.
5. Consider offering museum guides, pamphlets, handouts or educational materials in Braille format. They may also be offered as re-usable bound Braille materials or as a “Take Away” item that can be taken as a resource or reference item. Take-Away Braille educational materials are a particularly helpful reference/ resource for the student visitor. Braille materials would need pre-preparation by a Braille transcriber.
6. Be sure to greet your blind and visually impaired guest and offer specific information about the layout of your museum, specific exhibits and specialized accommodations available to them.
7. Directly address your blind guest instead of speaking “through” their companions. Your blind & visually impaired guest will appreciate the consideration you have made to address their specific questions, familiarize them with your museum and help them to maximize their overall experience.
8. Museums offering school field trips/educational events for children benefit from prior notification of any Braille or large print accessibility requirements. Prior notification will allow ample time for preparation of materials. Full participation is the goal for the visually impaired/blind student. Educational materials/handouts require pre-preparation (by a Braille transcriber) in order to have materials transcribed/embossed into Braille.
9. Children sections should have at least one set of crayons labeled with Braille for easy identification. Even children that slowly lose their vision or become blind early in life enjoy arts & crafts. It is important to recognize that whatever the case, blind & visually impaired children also enjoy individualized creativity and the ability to choose their own colors. Having a set of Braille labeled crayons on hand will certainly say everything about your readiness to address blindness accommodations.
10. Children’s activities such as picture and coloring activities can be adapted to incorporate tactile-kinesthetic components using a tracing wheel (available in most sewing departments) or using tactual markings such as “Wikki Stix” or dried glue to outline pictures. Ex: Using a tracing wheel to trace an insect or dinosaur picture (upside down) will result in a raised tactual outline for a blind student to actually follow. Use bold markers to outline pictures & coloring activities (for easier viewing) for the visually impaired child. Play Dough, clay and paper crimpers also add nice tactual components to art projects.
11. Encourage your blind & visually impaired visitors to actually explore exhibits and encourage your visually impaired visitor to view exhibits up close.
12. Be aware that your blind visitor may be using a guide dog. These dogs are specially trained dogs to do a specific job and are considered “working dogs”. Staff should inquire with the blind individual on appropriate interaction with the dog.
13. Invest the time to inform your blind visitors about the various accommodations you have put in place for the blind population such as: Braille museum guide books, Braille pamphlets, Braille handouts and Braille “take away items”, Braille menus, or specific machines marked or embossed in Braille such as: vending machines, soda machines or ATM’s”.
14. Consider offering Braille format for some of your museums most important historical sayings, quotes, or historical documents for your blind guest to refer to when navigating through your museum.
15. Braille and large print atlas & maps are available from specialized catalogues for blind & visually impaired individuals. If your exhibit includes maps be sure to remember that Braille maps may contribute nicely for the blind visitor.
16. Many Braille storybooks are already commercially available. So remember, if you have an exhibit of a famous American, inventor or famous woman in America such as Helen Keller or Amelia Earhart, it may already be available for purchase in Braille. A Braille transcriber/embosser can also Braille up Museum short stories or specific written materials used by your Museum.
17. Consider offering audio description of exhibits that are fragile, or visual in nature.
18. Tactual markers such as “Maxi Marks”, “Bump Dots”, “Spot ‘N Line” and “Hi Marks” are tactual marking tools. They can be used to identify specific items or to mark specific interactive push button displays. They are available in different sizes, shapes and textures and are commercially available at product suppliers for the visually impaired and blind. Tactual markers should be used on a limited basis for specific identification purposes. Be sure to inform you blind & visually impaired visitor should you incorporate any of these specific tactual marker accommodations into your exhibits.
19. Remember that your blind visitor will spread the word should they experience a meaningful, informative and enjoyable visit to your museum.
20. Be sure to advertise your specialized accommodations whether large print or Braille on your website. Screen readers provide blind & visually impaired the ability to access website material and review accommodations available.
Patricia Brown, M.Ed., as the owner of http://www.braillethis.com, has worked over 30 years in the field of special education, learning disabilities and blind & partially sighted. Visit her website for more information on braille transcription of Literary and Nemeth materials, transcription of manuals, pamphlets, menus, educational handouts, Braille adaptations of toddler books, binding and Braille interlining services.
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