Speaking Out on Art and Museums: A Study on the Needs and Preferences of Adults who Are Blind or Have Low Vision

Friday, April 1, 2011
Resource Type:
Reference Materials | Report
Environment Type: 
Public Programs, Museum and Science Center Programs, Professional Development, Conferences, and Networks, Professional Development and Workshops, Exhibitions, Museum and Science Center Exhibits
General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals | Evaluators
Art, music, and theater | Education and learning science
Access and Inclusion: 
People with Disabilities
Museum of Science, Boston, Art Beyond Sight

This report presents findings from a joint study carried out by the Museum of Science, Boston Research and Evaluation Department (MOS) and Art Beyond Sight (ABS, formerly Art Education for the Blind) with museum visitors who are blind or have low vision. The purpose of this study was to gather information that can inform the development of pilot museum programs that meet the needs and interests of visitors who are blind or have low vision and to provide professional development for museum professionals. Focus groups were used as the primary data collection method, as they enable idea sharing and discussion in a group format where educators can unobtrusively listen to and observe the conversation. Focus groups with participants who are blind or have low vision occurred during 2010 at seven major art museums across the country including the Brooklyn Museum; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; the Indianapolis Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the National Gallery of Art ; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Seattle Art Museum. Overarching findings from the focus groups indicate that participants who are blind or have low vision: 1) Were diverse in terms of their levels of vision, involvement in museums and the arts, needs and preferences, and approaches to self-advocacy; 2) Often put significant time and effort into the planning related to a museum visit, and various factors such as the cost of a museum ticket, crowding concerns, and transportation obstacles can affect their decision; 3) Have had extremely positive and negative past interactions with museum employees including docents and educators, front of house staff, and security guards; 4) Desire accessible programs and museum design that incorporate assistive technologies, tactile opportunities, and safe and clear exhibition and architectural designs; and 5) Value the positive feelings gained at museums from being socially involved, intellectually and emotionally stimulated, welcomed, and enabled to explore independently. Based on these findings, museums might consider: 1) Offering multiple solutions that accommodate the interests and needs of visitors who are blind or have low vision, especially in terms of design and interpretive approaches; 2) Easing the visit-planning process; 3) Training staff to be comfortable and respectful when interacting with blind and low vision visitors; 4) Implementing some of the suggested programs, which were, in general, positively received; and 5) Creating a welcoming atmosphere that offers social experiences that can be enjoyed with sighted group members along with opportunities that allow for independent learning.

Team Members

Nina LeventNina LeventAuthor
Joan PursleyJoan PursleyAuthor
Marta BeyerMarta BeyerAuthor

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