Accessibility at the Woodson Art Museum

By: Jayna Hintz, curator of education on April 18th, 2012

Individuals who are blind or visually impaired want the same things from art museum visits as other visitors. They want places to interact socially, learn about art history, and meet artists and learn about processes. They also want to enjoy their surroundings. This was the message gleaned from five guests, who are visually impaired, invited to a discussion session on Monday.

The Woodson Art Museum wants to exceed the expectations of all of its visitors and continually reassess how to improve, grow, and share our passion for the arts and for making art accessible for everyone.

For those who are blind or visually impaired, visual arts experiences are enhanced through Art Beyond Sight programs at the Woodson Art Museum. Art Beyond Sight is a collaborative effort coordinated by Art Education for the Blind, Inc., which provides resources and support materials. As an institutional partner, the Woodson supports the Art Beyond Sight mission to create greater accessibility and diversity in art museum programs.

Discussion participants who convened on Monday helped us understand what elements of a museum experience are important, what encourages repeat visits, and what might discourage future visits.

The assembled group informed us that the Woodson Art Museum is on the right track; the main hurdle for visitors who are visually impaired is transportation. Limited public transportation makes it hard for many to visit, despite free admission and program opportunities at the Woodson. The closest bus stop is several blocks away and buses run only twice a day. The group remained positive, though, saying they’d find ways to attend programs they know about far enough in advance.

What can visitors expect from an Art Beyond Sight program?

On March 17, the program focused on the Dinotopia exhibition. I read aloud from a Dinotopia book, and we listened to sounds of waterfalls, ocean waves, and parade music in the gallery. We passed around an aged book to feel its tender binding and soft, worn pages, and we shared stories of traveling to the ocean and discussed parades and feeling the vibrations from approaching drums.

Participants then moved to the classroom to explore fossils. Dave Daniels, of Colossal Fossils, passed around twenty fossils and shared information about each one. I led a casting project using clay and plaster. Dave gave everyone a shark tooth fossil to take home along with the fossil cast each had made. The feedback was extremely positive.

Improving and growing – that’s what education and learning are all about. We’re grateful for the information shared by participants on Monday and determined to implement their suggestions to enhance Art Beyond Sight programs at the Woodson Art Museum.

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