@MarDixon Passionate about culture internationally. Run remixing events, workshops, create solutions, and an international speaker. Over sharer and Mom who loses arguments to a teen. Projects created: @CultureThemes @lovetheatreday @AskaCurator @MuseumSelfieDay @TeensInMuseums @52museums
  • Opening Up Creative Culture for Blind/Partially Sighted #RNIBAccessGuide

    November 19th, 2012mardixonCulture

    Last week, I attended a workshophosted by RNIB called ‘Opening Up Creative Culture’.  This one-off free workshop at Ironbridge Museums asked for volunteers to be train to create audio descriptive tours for arts and cultures. While the course name presumes all candidates would work at a museum, that wasn’t true.  It was refreshing to find several candidates were Teaching Assistant, others were audio guide speakers and others were people who were visibly impaired.  All felt privileged to be there (and yes, there was a waiting list).

    Unfortunately I was only able to attend the last two of the four days due to prior commitments but I still learned so much. When I arrived on the Thursday, I explained to the group that I was going to live tweet and asked if they could fill me in on what I missed.  This simple question allowed the volunteers to reflect on the work they have done the past two days and I think they were all quite surprised with how much they’ve accomplished already.

    ‘I can’t believe how exhausted and exhilarating it’s been. ‘

    ‘I’m looking at everything differently now.’

    The volunteers created subgroups, each to work on one of the 4 key areas within Ironbridge: Ironbridge itself, Bedlam Furnace, Museum of Gorge, Jackfield Tile Museum.

    The objective/challenge each group had to achieve:

    • Meet a blind or partially sighted person at their key area and offer a descriptive tour.
    • Help navigate the tour around the key area.
    • Create a journal to record their findings.
    • Provide feedback/evaluate the session.

    The audio tour was to be created by the groups – everything from what to discuss, where to start the tour, who should do the talking and how much information should be added needed to be considered. This was not an easy task.

    Tips from the Leaders:

    • How would you describe this Ironbridge?

      Talk normally.  Don’t worry if you say ‘see you later.’

    • Use descriptive words: Don’t use ‘Over there.’ Instead use ‘To your right.’  Also use two-family cars for width or arm lengths.
    • Partially sighted people use lip reading, gesture and facial expression to help them understand.
    • Point out hazards along the way.
    • Find a good starting/stopping point – easy to hear close to exhibition.  Is there somewhere to sit?
    • Don’t forget that guide dogs need water and bathroom breaks.
    • Sighted companion might hog attention, distract friend’s attention or point out things before you do.  Bring them into the conversation/tour if you can.
    • Give options for short cuts if people can’t stay for the whole tour.  Also refer to progress along the way (we’re on the 7th of the 12th item…)
    • After the final summary, ask for feedback, mention other events and make sure the feedback is circulated.

    After intense days of learning best practice and researching the area, Friday saw each group show us their work. The tour guides had to tell us where to park and where to meet as part of their assessment.  While for Jackfield Tile Museum this was easy (as they have a car park), the group touring the Ironbridge had more of a challenge. However, for a Blind/partially sighted tour, this is a something you have to consider.

    The first tour was at Ironbridge.  We were told to meet on the bridge itself.  As this was the first tour, our workshop Leaders, Zoe Partington and Louise Fryer, requested everyone not in the audio group providing the tour to pair up: one being sighted and the other as the blind/partially sighted person.

    This little request provided incredible insight. 

    Group Ironbridge ensured we knew about the uneven payment as we walked from the bottom of the bridge to the top of the bridge. Once on the bridge, we were encouraged to touch the iron on the bridge while the history of the bridge and the area came to life with words. A great tip from this group was to use Postcards with the Ironbridge on them as their note holder.  It was much better than hearing paper rattle and was visually pleasing for those who are sighted.  They had a challenge of being outside and having to deal with cars noise near the road.

    Group Museum of Gorge had a different challenge as we were a large group trying to fit in a small area.  In reality, it would have been better if they were allowed to break the group into two smaller groups however, we all managed.  The words and powerful reading they used brought the room to life!  They used wonderfully descriptive words to help capture what it was like when the room flooded (as it is set near the Severn River).

    We then went to Bedlam Furnace which was another outside venue.  However, this challenge was unique as it is essentially a ruin they need to describe with parts of the furnace missing.  The history of the Bedlam Furnace was brought to life with the group. One of the feed back was while we were provided the history incredibly well, we didn’t get to feel the depth/height of the ruin.

    Group Jackfield Tile Museum had the complete opposite challenge from Museum of Gorge – they almost had too much to try to describe. A clever thing they did was to start the tour at the end as this avoided some of the sound triggers. They also provided a few pieces of tiles with different textures for us to hold/feel.

    After the tours, we went back to Coalbrookdale for evaluation/feedback.  The critical feedback was honest, raw and refreshing.  The people who closed their eyes on the tour provided the most constructive feedback.

    The whole experience has really impacted on how I see inclusion of art/museum.  By providing training to volunteers who were so passionate about sharing their knowledge there really is no reason that more cultural venues couldn’t offer this service.  A few years ago, Charlotte and I attended the BSL group at Wolverhampton Art Gallery as we found we learnt more having the description of the guide with the painting/art in front of us.  The blind/partially sighted people told me the monthly tour helped them see the art in a different way too :0)

    A key fact I learnt was 96% of the blind/partially sighted people have had sight at some point in their life.  Don’t be afraid to use colour as a descriptive.  The 4% who haven’t are ok with it!

    If you would like more information, please contact RNIB.


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