Strictly Hands-On: Tactile Tours Give Students with Visual Impairments a New Experience with Art at the High Museum
Learn how tactile replicas and specially-designed tours are making our museum more inclusive for all.
By Kate McLeod, Head of School and Teacher Services, High Museum of Art
“You mean an artist made this for us?” A student with a visual impairment is seeing a work of art for the first time at an art museum. The student had just been told that a visual artist re-created Native American on Horseback by Ronald Lockett especially for their group.
The group is part of a program called STARS (Social, Therapeutic, Academic and Recreational Services) at the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta, Georgia.
The yearlong program is for students with visual impairments and helps them “gain the self-confidence and skills necessary to thrive.” The Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI) is in midtown Atlanta, less than two miles from the High Museum of Art.
CVI and the High began an official partnership in 2016 through a Museum Access for Kids contract from the Kennedy Center VSA. One of the High’s overarching goals in the past few years has been to expand inclusive programming for all visitors, including students on the autism spectrum and students with visual impairments. And who better to partner with than our next-door neighbors, CVI?
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Through this partnership and others, High Museum staff have received training on working with visitors with various disabilities.
For the program with the Center for the Visually Impaired, the High consulted with educators who have experience working with students with visual impairments, including one High Museum docent who earned her doctorate in art education and wrote her dissertation on best practices around students with visual impairments in museum settings.
Part of this museum educator’s dissertation was to provide replicas of four works of art from the High’s collection.
She learned through her research that each replica should use large type for the text and incorporate Braille text about the art and the artist, a “visual legend” along with the replica, a visual reproduction of the artwork, and additional touch objects for students to experience. The docent then trained the Museum’s education staff in these best practices.
Our path was also paved with the generosity of CVI, who trained our staff on how to work with students with visual impairments, created Braille texts, and provided additional best practices for assisting visitors with visual impairments.
From this starting place, the High collaborated with and commissioned four teaching artists to create replicas of four works in its collection. We partnered the replicas with appropriate texts and visual legends.
On the day of the first tour for students with visual impairments, the objects were placed by the artworks, and the tour allowed students to see the objects and feel connected to the Museum in a way they had never experienced. Students also worked with professional teaching artists to create wearable art inspired by one of the artworks on the tour.
Both organizations are committed to working together in the coming years to provide access to museums, art, and artists for all students.
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