Sensing Design. Published 12/10/2015
This was an article by Andrew Mashigo for Designerly Learning, Design Museum’s Learning department blog page. In this article, he shares the values of the multisensory approach to Interpretation.
The Design Museum offers tailored touch tours designed for visually impaired visitors. Tour leader, Andrew Mashigo, talks about the multisensory approach of these tours and how appealing to all the senses can bring collections to life.
The Design Museum’s touch tours are using new ways to bring the museum’s exhibitions to visitors with visual impairments. Providing for a group at risk of exclusion is not only our legal responsibility, it’s a great way of communicating our valuable collection to an even wider audience so that people who may be visually impaired can enjoy the value of design to our society.
This is part of our commitment to increasing visitor engagement. It is a mistake to think that visually impaired people are not interested in visiting museums. Many VI’s are avid visitors to museums and have an interest in design and objects.
The Multisensory Approach
Traditional tours for people with visual impairments use the sense of touch as the predominant sense. We are now using a multisensory approach to communicate with our visually impaired audience using the senses to enable users to have a richer experience.
These tours involve participants in an engaging and insightful dialogue around the objects explored. I believe that interpretation should be about sharing and learning through exploration.
Main image description: A participant testing out the LUMO pen during a multisensory tour.
The first in our series of multisensory tours was titled “Light, Sound and the Built Environment”, and took place in July 2015. We looked at how technology in the museum’s collection and current exhibitions explored the senses of light and sound, and how new technology has been used to improve our lives. Among the devices explored were LUMO, Leaf Light, Light Scores and Responsive Street Furniture.
LUMO works by reading the surface of a page and translating graphical data into tactile and sound feedback. It converts black lines into vibration and colours into sound tones. Each colour calibrates to a different sound pitch, allowing a visually impaired person to identify the various hues of colour.
Our visually impaired participants were very impressed with the use and functionalities of LUMO and are also aware that the device is still in development. LUMO is an affordable real-time solution that makes existing learning environments more inclusive, as well as enriching the interaction between visually impaired and sighted students.
Planning and Delivering Sensory Tours. Published 17/08/2015
This was an article by Andrew Mashigo for Museum Practice, published on the Museums Association website.
In this article for Museums Association’s new online Guides publication, he shares his tips on planning and delivering sensory tours.
Sensory or touch tours give visually impaired people access to museums and galleries by providing an opportunity for them to enjoy a variety of artworks. A successful sensory tour has the potential to open up museums to people who are visually impaired or are at risk of exclusion.
1. Make sure the institution is physically accessible
Visitor entrances need to be accessible to wheelchair users and people with canes. Museums should also provide disabled toilets and changing spaces.
2. Plan disability awareness training
All museum staff will benefit from disability awareness training, which will make them more confident in their ability to relate to people with disabilities. Training can focus on the broad range of disabilities and ways to make museums and collections accessible to as many people as possible.
3. Develop an advisory board
If the institution does not already have disabled users, they may be able to work with a local organisation. Practical considerations include how to recruit members to an advisory board; how to review in-house resources; and how to set short and long-term goals.
4. Develop handling resources unique to your institution
Handling resources could include touchable models of artworks and objects from the collection, as well as tactile diagrams and sensory objects that can help visually impaired visitors access artworks or objects.
5. Launch a pilot scheme
A pilot will allow users to test and evaluate the strength of the access programme and may identify additional resources needed such as handling objects, props, replicas and other interpretation tools.
6. Initiate a community outreach programme
Community outreach is essential when planning programmes for visitors with visual impairments and other disabilities, who will have positive and negative experiences of engaging with museums. Networking can help widen access to groups of people at risk of exclusion.
7. Delivering tours
Sensory tours are an objective interpretation of the artwork or object explored. It is not so much about teaching or lecturing but really about using the available interpretation tools and resources to examine artwork and engage in dialogue around that artwork.
A successful tour gives agency to participants and allows them to make their own interpretations of the objects examined.
8. Successful communication
During a sensory tour, the facilitator should always speak directly to visually impaired participants, and not through their companion, guide or another third party.
Not everyone recognises or remembers voices, so the facilitator should identify themselves when they approach a person who is visually impaired, and introduce any new people who join in the conversation.
It is fine to lightly touch an individual’s arm when speaking so that they know they are being addressed.
9. Touching artworks
Our fingertips are highly sensitive and allow for great interaction with our environment. The tour facilitator should encourage participants to start their touch investigation with their fingertips, before using the rest of their hands for a fuller and more comprehensive examination of the artwork.
A facilitator might lightly guide a participant’s hands along with the artwork or object, and give them an idea of its basic elements. But participants should be given the opportunity to share their thoughts on what the artwork or object is.
10. Art-making sessions
If possible, include an art-making session at the end of the tour. This gives participants the opportunity to respond to the artworks they’ve just explored.
Andrew Mashigo is a freelance museum educator at the Design Museum in London and the lead facilitator for the MaMoMi Initiative.
About Museum Practice:
Museum Practice (MP) was first launched in 1998 to provide examples of new developments and innovations in museums and galleries, from the latest technology to new ways of interpreting objects and storing collections.