When I started this blog, I wrote short posts announcing my publications with the link to each publication. I hadn’t developed my current practice of summarizing each paper as a blog post.

This post summarizes the paper titled “Assessing Attitudes of Blind Adults About Museums”. The paper documents systemic problems that blind people face with inaccessible museum exhibits.

My co-author, Don Winiecki, and I conducted an online survey of blind adults about their experiences at museums collecting 124 responses from June to October 2018.

We published our paper as part of the 2020 MuseWeb conference that went online at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most museums were closed at that time, and when museums re-opened, many hands-on exhibits remained closed.

Our paper reported on systemic problems with inaccessible content at museums before the Covid-19 pandemic. Personal experience, and conversations with many blind people, demonstrate that this situation has not improved.

We introduced our paper by documenting the lack of data about museum experiences of blind people. The existing literature can be divided into two categories:

•            Anecdotal accounts written as personal reflections or as second-hand observations.

•            Reports written by sighted museum staff on the accessibility of specific exhibits.

We received 124 responses to our survey. Our survey is the first large-scale study of the museum experience of blind people. Survey participants described positive aspects of museum visits such as tactile or hands-on experiences, and the availability of materials in alternative formats (braille, large print, and audio). They also reported negative factors using phrases such as “under glass,” “inaccessible,” “boring,” or “frustrating”.

We described work-arounds that blind people used to get information about the content of exhibits despite facing access barriers to their participation. Strategies can be classified as in-sourcing, or out-sourcing.

In-sourcing strategies using resources provided by the museum.

•            Touch tours of objects from the museum’s collection or replicas of objects on exhibit.

•            Braille or large print labels and maps.

•            Audio guides, and audio description.

Out-sourcing strategies gathering information from sources not provided by the museum.

•            Asking a sighted companion to read exhibit labels and describe the objects under glass.

•            Using a third-party accessibility application on a personal device.

There are social aspects of museum experiences that are unique to blind people. Our survey participants discussed their interactions with sighted museum staff or volunteers. Read our paper to learn the percentages of positive versus negative interactions.

Despite the many access barriers, we found that blind people have a positive opinion of museums. This is comparable to findings for the general public.

Here is the full citation and the direct link to our paper.

Fogle-Hatch, Cheryl and Winiecki, Don. Assessing Attitudes of Blind Adults About Museums. MW20: MW 2020. Published February 15, 2020.