Audio tours are a way to give blind or partially sighted guests a meaningful experience that can be relatively self-sufficient, meaning the visitors do not have to rely on another person to describe objects to them.
These tours can be difficult to write, so it’s beneficial to know what type of language to use. It’s important to utilize short sentences. Longer sentences can be confusing, and it’s more difficult to go back and re-listen to a sentence than it is to reread one. It’s also important to be as descriptive as possible, without resorting to flowery language. Descriptive audio tours should be mostly utilitarian. Describe colors, shapes, and where things are in relation to each other. How does the paint look on the canvas – is it thinly or thickly applied? Is there a crack in the pottery at your natural history museum? What is the shape of the couch found in your historic house museum? These are all questions you should be asking yourself when writing this kind of label. If you see it, write it down. For three dimensional objects, it is helpful to describe the size by comparing it to another object, like one’s hand or a common household object. It is also helpful to ask the guest to mimic poses of figures depicted in art objects. This gives the guest an idea of what the figure looks like while engaging their attention in a different way.
Note that it may take a few times to get these tours “right”. As suggested in the F.A.Q., make it a priority to ask your city’s blind residents for help with making these tours the best they can be, by reading the audio labels aloud and asking if there is enough information, see if the sentences are confusing, etc.
Guided Tours/Touch Tours
Guided touch tours are another way to engage with your blind or low vision visitors. These tours can be difficult for art museums, especially small art museums, as it can be expensive to create maquettes of sculptures or paintings. Likewise, natural history or historic house museums may face similar struggles, as well as figuring out what objects should be reproduced for a good touch tour.
All of the touch tours I have been on have been limited to 6 or 7 objects, and have been under an hour long (which is to be expected for a guided tour). The objects visitors were allowed to touch were selected based on their texture – that is, what materials were used to make a given object or part of the architecture – and shape. For art museums, perhaps creating a small canvas with thickly applied paint to illustrate the technique of Van Gogh or a similar artist would be best. For natural history museums, creating a model of a fossil found at your museum, and for historic house museums, perhaps consider allowing visitors to touch furniture and other objects using gloves so that they can feel the shape and the rough detail of carvings. There are many ways around this issue, and many creative solutions.
When on guided tours, it is helpful to have one staff member or volunteer assigned to assist each visitor. Be sure to train these individuals on descriptive language, as well as more practical concerns, like asking permission to take hold of a person’s hand to guide them to the object they are meant to touch.
Braille and large print labels
This may be an obvious accommodation, but one that needs to be mentioned anyway. Having braille on all signs indicating where restrooms and emergency exits are is an excellent place to start. However, an even better accommodation would be to offer braille maps and written tours to visitors, much like audio tours are provided. Because creating these maps and tours may be expensive, perhaps creating a few permanent copies that visitors can check out is the best solution.
Similar to providing braille options, having large print options of certain labels and maps are helpful to have on hand for guests who have low vision.
Web accessibility is something that is often overlooked. Contrary to popular belief, blind and partially sighted people do use the internet. Screen reader software exists to aid this use. Notice that any acronyms used on this website are followed by periods (M.A.T. as opposed to MAT). Acronyms are written this way so that screen readers can properly read out each letter. By including periods after each letter, the screen reader will read out “M-A-T” as opposed to reading out “mat”. This is one of many ways to make your website more accessible.
Another suggestion is to include as many image descriptions as possible. Image descriptions, like labels in audio tours, describe exactly what you see in a photo or illustration. Unlike labels for audio tours, there should be no extra interpretive information. Keep them short and descriptive. Likewise, offering an option on your website to make the text larger can help those with vision impairments more easily read your website information. You can read more about web accessibility on the Web Accessibility Initiative website.