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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 on the values of the multisensory approach to Interpretation.

Tags: Access programme audience consultation public programmes

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.

Access

The Design Museum’s touch tours are using new ways to bring the museum’s exhibitions to visitors with visually 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.

The image shows a multisensory tour in progress, with a participant testing out the Lumo pen on a coloured print.

Image description: A participant testing out the LUMO pen.

LUMO at the Design Museum

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 translates 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 which 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 in 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 an 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 joins 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 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 MaMoMi initiative.

The image shows a multisensory tour in progress, with a participant testing out the Lumo pen on a coloured print.

Image description: The image shows a visually impaired participant testing the Lumo Pen on a coloured sheet placed on a desk, as part of the workshop session for the Light, Sound and The Built Environment multisensory tour at the Design Museum, on 11 July 2015.

Touch Tours. Published 15/02/2013

This was an article by Andrew Mashigo for Museum Practice, published in Museums Association website.
In this article, we explain best practice in balancing access needs with conservation concerns.

Touch tours give visually impaired people access to museums and galleries, and provide an opportunity for them to enjoy a variety of artworks. To do this they need to be objective, engaging and reflective – and combine tactile and descriptive elements.

Touch tours involve exploration and participation of artworks but every time an artwork is touched there is a risk of damage.

Conservation is crucial to preservation of artworks and a few health and safety guidelines have been set up by museums to help protect the guide, participants and artworks during tactile tours.

1. Participants and guides should remove chains, bangles, watches, rings and any other jewellery that may cause damage through abrasion.

2. They should also avoid wearing coats and scarfs, or carrying handbags that may cause snagging.

3. Advise participants against wearing high heels or unstable footwear during the tour.

4. Tactile tours are conducted wearing gloves. Two options are currently the most popular: fabric cotton gloves, which are comfortable to wear but reduce the sensation of touch and detail experienced during the handling process; or the polyethylene or latex gloves, which are lighter and allow more detailed touch but cause sweating over long periods of use and cannot be re-used.

5. Fragile works should not be touched, so we can avoid damage by breaking etc.

6. Visitors should be aware of sculptures on high plinths, and should not lean or put weight on sculptures.

7. Guides must be mindful of where sculptures are positioned, especially those around or near entrances, doorways, exits and windows, to avoid trip hazards.

8. The number of people per tour depends on the number of guides or educators available, and also depends on the length or theme of the tour. I usually suggest no more than six to eight per tour, as that allows the guide enough time to explore the artworks with each participant.

Touch tours are often run and supported by a museum’s education or interpretation department, but some organisations have a small charge or donation for online booking (usually no more than £3).

Read Describing Touch Tours for this article published in Museums Association website. 15.02.2013


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.

Read Museum Practice for more about the Museum Practice page on Museums Association website. You can also click on the image on the right.

A view of an exhibition space, with exhibition display cabinets on both sides of the room.

A view of an exhibition space