Art Museums Do Not Boost My Mood

From time to time, I will post short commentaries on work produced by others. I will list the work and state my reaction to it.

3 Reasons Why Visiting an Art Museum Can Boost Your Mood

This post appeared on the Social Instincts blog, Psychology Today, April 19, 2022.

The Social Instincts blog is a place to summarize papers in academic journals. Here is their summary of a study in Positive Psychology about visiting art museums.

“Recent research found three benefits of frequent visits to art museums: Visits can reduce stress, combat isolation, and be rewarding.”

It is not surprising that a post about museum visits boosting your mood would be shared by the social media accounts of many museums. At first, I hesitated to follow the link to read it because I have evidence that museums do not improve the moods of some visitors. People who are blind or have low vision describe visits to museums as boring and frustrating.

The lack of accessible content is frustrating. If a sculpture is mounted on a pedestal or kept behind a railing, then those who are prevented from touching the sculpture are deprived of an opportunity to explore it. Those who can see it get an opportunity to examine the sculpture. The same situation applies when a painting is installed without a tactile reproduction. Although verbal descriptions are appreciated, they cannot substitute for the experience of independently exploring an artwork.

Art museums are environments that preference the sense of sight in art appreciation. This environment can be stressful because there is no consideration for other sensory components. It is isolating, and it certainly is not rewarding for all visitors.

To learn more, read

In Their Own Words: Adults Who Are Blind Describe Museums

There are assumptions baked into the headline that visiting an art museum “can boost your mood.” The reader is addressed as “you,” and everyone is assumed to have positive experiences on their museum visits. All visitors are assumed to have the same abilities and perceptions.

I have shown that positive experiences are not universal, so how can this headline be explained? To answer that question, I read the research study that was summarized in the Social Instincts Blog. The study is:

Katherine N. Cotter & James O. Pawelski (2022) Art museums as institutions for human flourishing, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 17:2, 288-302, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2021.2016911

Cotter and Pawelski “review the psychological literature examining art museum visitation and museum program participation.” The research literature does not address the relationship between lack of accessible content and the well-being of visitors with disabilities. The only published research about people with disabilities cited in Cotter and Pawelski’s review is about people living with dementia.

There is a circular logic in play. The literature does not address the spectrum of human abilities. Visitors are assumed to have the same abilities and to benefit from the same environments. Thus, the universal assumption that “your” mood is boosted by visiting an art museum is based on the sameness of visitors. In fact, human abilities vary, and a universal assumption is not true.

Much more can be written about this topic, but my purpose in posting commentaries is to limit discussion to a particular work. For the blog post and the journal article, the take-away is that the assumptions made are not true for all visitors.

exhibits tactile

Please Touch Tour at Macculloch Hall

I am glad to publicize a cool project that I worked on—the Please Touch Tour at Macculloch Hall  Historical Museum  in Morristown New Jersey.

We selected objects for the Please Touch Tour that represented typical activities in each room of the house. An iron safe and key are in the office. China vases are in the elegant dining room, and a clothes iron represents servants activity in the back hallway.

Some features of the building are tactile. Intricate decorations are carved in the mantel over the fireplace in the library.

Two 3D photos were installed after my last visit to Macculloch Hall. The photos are tactile representations of artwork that are displayed in the house.

One photo shows a portrait of George Washington. It was painted by Charles Willson Peale and it hangs in the dining room.

The other 3D photo shows a famous cartoon of Santa Claus. The cartoon was drawn by Thomas Nast who lived across Macculloch Avenue.

The Please Touch Tour was made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission.

Audio and Mobile Guides

To listen to the audio guide, call 973-419-6973 and enter the codes for the stops. To hear the Please Touch Tour  dial 700# and there are other codes to hear the exterior tour of the garden and the interior tour of the house. The Accessible Audio Guide was made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.

The Bring Your Own Device Tour was funded with a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

I highly recommend the new accessible offerings from Macculloch Hall. I urge everyone to learn about their touch tour, and if you can, to visit it in person. The audio and mobile guides can be accessed from anywhere.


Audio Description

My last post focused on alt text, image description for web sites and social media posts. In this post, I will discuss audio description for videos and performances.

The Ultimate Guide to Audio Description explains it this way.

“Audio description is an audio track that narrates the relevant visual information in media. Audio description assumes that the viewer cannot see, and therefore depicts the key visual elements that are necessary to understanding the content as an accommodation for blind and low vision viewers.”

Audio description was developed for live theater performances in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1987, WGBH began offering audio description for television shows under the brand name Descriptive Video Services (DVS).

When media is described, narration is added during the natural pauses in the dialogue of the original content.

The YouTube video linked from this post is an excellent example of audio description. The narration in the opening sequence includes the film location and describes the action—a speeding race car that crashes.

This video, released by PBS American Masters in July 2021, is titled “Kitty O’Neil: Deaf racecar driver, daredevil and stunt legend” More than 50 percent of the production team are people with disabilities including the producer, writer/director, and show host.

Watch Kitty O’Neil: Deaf racecar driver, daredevil and stunt legend

To learn more, visit the Audio Description Project. This site hosts a searchable database of described videos. If you want to produce your own described content, you can read their guides explaining the process, or you can browse lists of companies offering description services in English and in other languages.


What is Alt Text And Why Is It Important?

On February 18, 2022, the New York Times published an article that explained how blind people learned about images on web pages and in social media posts. The solution is to add brief descriptions to images that can be read aloud by  screen readers.

For background information, read this post. How do blind people use the internet?

What Is Alt Text?

Alt text is a brief description of a picture. Here are some examples of good alt text taken from the New York Times article.

•            Cute puppy lying on sofa.

•            Neon sign reading, “open.”

•            A firefighter leans on an axe in a burning forest.

The examples listed above are clear. They briefly describe what is in the picture.

The article also gives unclear examples of alt text.

•            final_final.jpg

•            image

When I hear my screen reader say .jpg,” or another file extension like .tif or .png, I know that the alt text is the file name of the photo that was uploaded to the web page. If I hear the word “image” I know that no alt text was associated with the photo upload.

How To Add Alt Text To Images

Alt text can be added when someone associates a description with a picture that they are uploading to a web page or social media post.

Content management systems like WordPress have edit fields labeled for alt text that appear when I edit a photo in my media library. Once I add it, the alt text is included when I put the photo on the page.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram let users add alt text to photos that they upload. Searching the help pages should bring up the correct settings for each platform.

Another way to include alt text is to type a description into the caption of a social media post. I sometimes comment on my friends’ posts asking them to describe an image.

Finally, those who use html to code their content can add the alt text to code that associates the description with the image. Programmers can search the W3Schools Online Web Tutorials for sample html code.

Resources for Writing Alt Text

The Cooper Hewitt Guidelines for Image Description.

“This document outlines types of descriptions, the structure of a description, and recommendations to help guide writing descriptions (with examples).”

The Guidelines for Verbal Description  published by Art Beyond Sight explain how to describe art works like paintings and sculptures.

“Generally, a coherent description should provide visual information in a sequence, allowing a blind person to assemble, piece by piece, an image of a highly complex work of art.”

The Poet Training Tool “is a web-based image description resource that helps people learn when and how to describe various types of images frequently found in educational books.”

Using alt text to make science Twitter more accessible for people with visual impairments is an article published by Nature Communications in November 2020.

“Scientists increasingly post images and photos on social media to share their

research activities. However, posting images and photos could potentially

exclude people with visual impairments. Here, we outline actions that should be

taken to foster accessibility and inclusion in posting scientific images on

social media.”

Alt Text As Poetry is a collaboration between artists Bojana Coklyat and Shannon Finnegan. They write about the language used in image descriptions.

Finally, I recommend downloading and reading this academic paper about representing race and gender in image descriptions. Cynthia Bennett and her co-authors interviewed

“screen reader users who were also Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Non-binary, and/or Transgender on their current image description practices and preferences, and experiences negotiating theirs and others’ appearances non-visually.”

Call to Action

Writing alt text that describes images is a crucial step towards making web pages and social media posts accessible to everyone. The absolute best way to learn to write alt text is to do it. It is a skill that people can learn to do well with practice.

accessibility Sonification

The Sound of Tennis

During the last week of January 2022, I read several articles about a system that produced 3D sound tracking the movements of a tennis ball in motion. Action Audio transforms spatial data from the Australian Open’s real time ball monitoring technology into 3D sound.

This FAQ explains how the system works. The first item on the page is a documentary. Below that is a series of short video clips that demonstrate the individual sounds assigned to the ball as it moves across the court.

The sounds are:

•            Blips increase in frequency as the ball approaches the court perimeter.

•            A metallic bell/rattle sound indicates that the ball has been hit.

•            High pitches identify forehand serves, and lower pitches correspond to a backhand serve.

The last clip includes the 3D sound and video from a previous tennis match. It is an “18 shot rally between Marin Čilić and Roger Federer in the fourth set of the Australian Open 2018 singles men’s final”.

The clip begins with the players hitting the ball back and forth. Then one player misses a shot. The crowd noise confirms my observation.

During the 2022 Australian Open, viewers could watch a livestream that included Action Audio overlaid onto the broadcast commentary.

Action Audio is a collaboration between Tennis Australia, Monash University and AKQA. The collaborators “thank the International Blind Tennis Association, Blind Sports & Recreation Victoria and the many sports fans who contributed to the co-design of Action Audio.”


Braille is Essential

Braille is a system of raised dots that are grouped into tactile symbols representing letters and numbers. Braille is a proven literacy tool that enriches the lives of blind people.

In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly declared that World Braille Day would be celebrated on January 4th, the birthday of the inventor Louis Braille. Many organizations designate January as Braille Literacy month.

Braille is a code that can be written in many languages. When I was a student, I learned literary Braille for reading books, and I also learned the Nemeth code for math. There are Braille codes for music and for foreign languages.

Read more about this and 10 Interesting Facts for World Braille Day 

I use Braille for many daily tasks from writing notes, labeling envelopes containing important documents, jotting down phone numbers, or recipes to reading books.

Sometimes, I write Braille notes on paper using mechanical devices like a Braille writer or a slate and stylus. At other times, I connect a Braille display to my phone or computer that translates print into Braille. Learn more about reading and writing Braille.

Check out the Braillist Foundation’s media page for recordings of presentations and downloadable handouts about using Braille on the internet, in the kitchen, and everywhere.

Braille Literacy is Essential for Education and Employment

“Braille literacy is reading, comprehending, and writing in braille. Look at it this way: literacy for students without a visual impairment is reading, writing, and understanding the written word. So, why would it be any different for a student with a visual disability?” This post from Braille Works explains systematic issues in education of blind children that prevent them from becoming literate.

Why is Braille Literacy So Critical?

This post from the American Printing House for the Blind offers the valuable perspective of a person who learned Braille as an adult. She writes about the importance of Braille in the 21st Century Workplace.

More resources

The Paths to Literacy blog maintained by the Perkins School for the Blind includes many resources for learning and teaching Braille. Start with this post.

Celebrate Braille Literacy Month

Both the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind maintain web pages of resources about Braille.

Visit the National Federation of the Blind Braille resources page

or the American Council of the Blind Resource Page.

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind offers online events in January 2022. One topic is Braille resources for French speakers.

The importance of Braille literacy for blind people transcends time and place. A quick search for “world Braille Day” displays resultsfrom the United States and around the world.

accessibility publications

2021 in review

2021 was a hybrid year.  Much of my work is still being done virtually, but I resumed in-person activities especially after I was vaccinated. The hybrid nature of my work in 2021 reminds me that virtual and in-person activities have different advantages.

Virtual conferences give people the flexibility to attend from anywhere. If the platform allows it, they can view files on demand.

In May,  I submitted a virtual poster for the American Alliance of Museums conference titled In Their Own Words: Adults Who Are Blind Describe Museums

I conduct Site assessments in-person.

In 2021, I evaluated the accessibility of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Memorial located on the National Mall in Washington D.C. I describe my observations, and recommendations for improvements in this report Commissioned by the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee.

Publication is an important way to share results of innovative projects. I contributed to two publications in 2021.

the exhibition catalog for Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility

Bring Your Own (Accessible) Device: A Mobile Guide Solution for Promoting Accessibility, Social Distancing, and Autonomy in Museums

accessibility exhibits publications research

Bring Your Own Accessible Device

I am pleased to announce the publication of our work creating and testing an accessible mobile guide for the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum. This paper describes a web-based mobile guide that visitors can access via their personal devices. “The guide features visual descriptions of artifacts, non-visual wayfinding directions to exhibitions, summaries of exhibit content in easy-to-read bullet points, open-captioned videos kept under two minutes, video transcripts, and photos with alt text.”

The Intrepid mobile guide is free and can be viewed online.

Our article citation is:

Race, Lauren, Charlotte Martin, Xinwen Xu, Cheryl Fogle-Hatch, and Amy Hurst. 2021. “Bring Your Own (Accessible) Device: A Mobile Guide Solution for Promoting Accessibility, Social Distancing, and Autonomy in Museums.” The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum 15 (2): 1-23. doi:10.18848/1835-2014/CGP/v15i02/1-23


When Accessible Content Meets an Inaccessible Interface

This post describes the results of submitting a paper about accessibility to an organization that does not follow best practices for accessibility. We submitted the paper to the Society for Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD), and we also recorded a video for their virtual conference. The links to download the paper and watch the video are listed near the end of this post.

Highlights from our paper

Our paper is:

“Strategies for Incorporating Anti-ableism Into Design Curriculum” by Audra Buck-Coleman, Cheryl Fogle-Hatch, and Robin Marquis.

In this paper, we share reflections about incorporating accessibility into student projects in graphic design classes. Audra Buck-Coleman taught the University of Maryland students who created the exhibit Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility. Robin and I served as consultants on the exhibit answering student questions in class and offering feedback on their content. Naturally, we filled a similar role in writing this paper commenting on Audra’s drafts.

Here are some highlights from this paper.

“disability is caused by the way society is organized and designed. For example, a person is not disabled because they use a wheelchair but rather because the building was not designed with an elevator to give them access to all floors.”

“Recruit collaborators from the disability community to share their experiences and to co-design with students throughout the project. “Nothing about us without us” is the motto of the disability community for good reason. Too many assumptions about their needs and the best ways to meet them have been uninformed, ineffective, and insulting. Invite people who not only have a disability but are also knowledgeable about related issues and are willing to work with those who are not.”

“Design with multi-sensory and duplication in mind. In this case, more is more.”

“Don’t wait for perfection. Communication is key to building trust with people with disabilities. Give audience members a clear idea of how and if they would be able to navigate a space. They then have the autonomy to decide whether they visit or not.”

Another Paper Recommendation

One other paper on accessibility was included in the conference and the journal issue.

“Cripping the Crit: Towards a More Accessible Design Academy” by Gabi Schaffzin.

This paper discusses obstacles that students with disabilities face when taking design classes. I highly recommend it.

Access Limitations

SEGD is not following best practices for accessibility. We discovered this as we were preparing to present our work in their virtual conference in June of 2021.

We felt that it was important for us to model best practices for accessibility by including captions and ASL interpretation in our video presentation. When Audra contacted the event organizers, she learned that they had not made provisions for captions or ASL interpretation. Therefore, we pre-recorded our presentation to include both ASL and captions.

watch our video.

Publication Issues

Given the lack of awareness about accessible videos, I was expecting to find problems with the accessibility of the SEGD journal, Communication + Place.

The pdf that is provided is a single file containing the entire journal issue.

The pdf was recognized as text, so it is readable by screen readers (voice output) software used by people who are blind. However, there are significant problems with the pdf that hinder navigation.

•            Each scanned page includes facing print pages (even and odd). This means that the page numbers in the journal issue do not match the page numbers in the pdf file. It is impossible to navigate directly to a specific page.

•            The document does not have headings at the beginning of each paper so they cannot be easily located.

•            Paper titles are not presented as hyperlinks in the Table of Contents, so titles cannot be activated to go directly to each paper.

It is difficult to navigate this file with a keyboard. I assume that people using a mouse will also find navigation time-consuming because they must scroll through many pages searching for a specific paper.

Citations and Download Link

Here are the full citations for papers mentioned in this post.

Buck-Coleman, Audra, Cheryl Fogle-Hatch, and Robin Marquis.

2021, “Strategies for incorporating anti-ableism into design curriculum” Communication + Place, PP. 130-141.

Schaffzin, Gabi.

2021, “Cripping the Crit: Towards a More Accessible Design Academy”, Communication + Place, pp. 112-119.

Download the journal issue.

accessibility exhibits publications

Redefine/ABLE exhibition catalog

I begin this post by quoting from an announcement for a new book that contains essays that I co-authored with my excellent colleagues and one piece that I wrote as a sole author.

“Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility aims to inform audiences about disability issues, to share the challenges and success stories of those with disabilities, and to identify ways we can create more accessible, inclusive spaces.”

This book includes content from the Redefine/ABLE exhibition hosted by the Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture as well as essays contributed by project collaborators. Instructions to get a copy are at the end of this post.

The Redefine/ABLE exhibition was a collaboration between University of Maryland graphic design students and members of the disability community in Maryland. It was scheduled to open in two physical spaces, the University of Maryland, College Park, and in downtown Baltimore, in mid-March 2020. Like so many events, the physical exhibitions were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Redefine/ABLE was also scheduled as an online exhibition to open in March 2020, but the pandemic delayed the website launch to July 2020. Between March and July 2020, many of the contributors wrote, or re-wrote their essays in response to the pandemic.

Two essays describe the online exhibition and associated programs that were held in July and August of 2020.

•            An Exhibition Redefined by a Pandemic by Audra Buck-Coleman

•            Redefining Redefine/ABLE: From Access to Inclusion at the Peale by Nancy Proctor

Content Written Before the Pandemic

The exhibition panels designed by University of Maryland Students present what they learned about accessibility for people with disabilities in a pre-pandemic world (fall 2019 semester through March 2020). The panel titles are:

•            Discover/ABLE: What does it mean to be disabled?

•            Deny/ABLE: What isn’t accessible?

•            Access/ABLE: How are objects and spaces inclusive?

•            Confront/ABLE: What does it mean to be ableist?

•            Relate/ABLE: What do we have in common?

One essay does not mention the pandemic. It is “Listen Very Carefully” by Ruth Lozner

Content Written During the Pandemic

As we prepared for the website launch in July 2020, we wrote two essays that expanded on the exhibition themes.

“The interconnected-ness of Covid-19 to discrimination against the disabled” gives examples of pandemic responses that had negative effects on people with disabilities. Both Audra Buck-Coleman and I have undergraduate degrees in journalism. Writing this piece on current events drew on that training.

“Bearing witness to the ableism embedded within the pandemic” is a Q&A between Audra, me, and a third colleague, Robin Marquis, offering our personal reflections on this topic.

Contributors discussed how access to museum exhibits changed during the pandemic. I wrote a first draft of my essay “Please Do Touch the Art!” in February 2020. Later, I expanded the essay to incorporate my thoughts about ways museums could continue to display touch objects during the pandemic.

I also recommend the essay by Kevin Bacon and Lara Perry “Technology, Covid-19, and accessibility: Challenges and opportunities for museums”.

Finally, Audra Buck-Coleman, NALIYAH KAYA, and I described “Five Accessibility and Inclusion Insights from Producing an Exhibition During Covid-19”.

How to Get This Book

This book is available as a free download from The Peale Center’s website  A pay-for-print version via will be available soon. Check the same link for an order form.