An organization called Art Beyond Sight is working with the Chicago History Museum to learn more about ways people who are blind manage in museums, and I’ve been invited to head over there this Thursday morning to offer suggestions.
Confession: I’m always ambivalent about these things. I credit the institutions for trying. I really do. And some special accommodations–like the advance tour before plays at Steppenwolf — truly enriched my experience. But when it comes to static, visual art, I must confess I’ve been to several accessible exhibits and none have been particularly satisfying or enlightening.
Mind you, I’m not speaking for all visually impaired people. And I’m never one to turn down special privileges, like the ability to touch artifacts that the general public cannot. But for me, touching artifacts does not allow me to appreciate the entire exhibition. It only provides some of the pieces, and hey, I already spend too much time putting mental puzzles together every day.
As for audio tours, well, they can be quite entertaining and educational, yes, but paying to get into a museum just to walk around with headphones on doesn’t make sense to me. I’d rather download the monologue and listen to it at home, lying comfortably on my couch!
I do like living in a big city with lots of museums. I get a lot out of it without being able to see. I attend lectures and read books to learn about exhibitions in town, about the artists and their lives and their significance. I enjoy discussing the exhibitions with sighted friends who go see them, but as for the special tactile things, I confess that they:
- Expect too much. Touch is too particular — I can only take in parts of the artwork that are one fingertip wide
- Make the sighted people feel better about the Braille signs and tactile exhibits than I do
- Leave me feeling obligated to be grateful
But, again–I applaud the effort, and because I’ve been wrong more than once in the past, I figure they asked, so I’ll answer. And in the process, I’ll be forced to climb back on the horse, er, bus…One of the many, many things I’ve had to avoid since my unexpected emergency open-heart surgery is riding a bus alone with my Seeing eye dog. Surgeons were afraid the bus would take off before we found a seat and I’d fall. Not good for my healing sternum.
This Thursday marks 12 weeks since my April miracle. My sternum is healed now, and the #22 bus is an easy ride from our place to the Chicago History Museum. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit anxious about the bus trip, and a post my writer friend Jeff Flodin just published called Every trip an adventure is not boosting my confidence, either (it’s about trying to find a seat on CTA buses with his Seeing Eye dog Randy). And so, rather than think about bus rides and well-meaning accessible exhibits, I’m focusing on my reward instead: I’m meeting friends at the museum afterwards for lunch. No special accomodations necessary for that: my four remaining senses are enough to feel the air-conditioning, smell the coffee, taste the food and hear lively conversation.