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What is MuseumSenses?

What is MuseumSenses?

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MuseumSenses is a product of my unique experience as an archaeologist and museum professional who also happens to be blind. While conducting my doctoral research on variation in stone projectile points, (spear tips), I became familiar with the behind-the-scenes of museums where research occurs. In these research areas, careful handling of artifacts is expected. I would investigate artifacts by touch while my sighted colleagues primarily relied upon their vision.

Contrast the openness of research settings with public areas of museums where artifacts are generally inaccessible to me because they are kept in display cases where they can only be seen. Over the years, I have had conversations with blind people who express frustrations with the inaccessibility of museum exhibits. Most blind people, and sighted people for that matter, will only experience the public areas of museums. They will not feel the excitement of examining artifacts in a laboratory setting.

I relish the opportunity to create multisensory experiences for both blind and sighted people. For example, my colleagues and I designed a prototype of a traveling exhibit containing 3-D printed replicas of stone projectile points found at archaeological sites. Then we attached QR-codes to the replicas that, when scanned with a smartphone, opened a webpage with more information about that artifact.

Similarly, I helped to organize a multisensory art exhibit that ran in Baltimore during June and July 2019. The Art displayed in the “Ways of Seeing” exhibition included paintings, sculpture, wood carving, and works comprised of mixed media. Artworks were designed to be experienced through all five senses, primarily sight and touch. About 375 people attended the show and associated programming. The organizing team expected to receive positive feedback from blind people, but we were pleasantly surprised to learn that sighted people also enjoyed touching the art.

I can leverage my research skills and my lived-experience as a blind person to develop exhibits that are accessible to both blind and sighted audiences. My work includes:

  • Conducting research about the attitudes of blind people towards museums using surveys to quantify participant responses.
  • exploring responses of sighted people when they encounter multisensory exhibits
  • Developing innovative accessibility solutions that convey information in tactile and audio formats enabling blind people to participate more fully in the offerings of museums and other cultural organizations.
  • Promoting the development of inclusive content that can be experienced by mixed groups of blind and sighted people.

Future posts on MuseumSenses will describe my work. I also intend to highlight the work of other organizations when it promotes the integration of blind and sighted audiences at the same exhibit or program.

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