How Art Can Be Made More Accessible For Partially Sighted People

Americas, Built Environment, Universal Design, August 28 2018

A woman looking at artwork

Photo by Vincent Tantardini on Unsplash

ONTARIO, CANADA: Ontario alone has over 100 art galleries, and they’re by far some of the best in the world. With the National Gallery and the National Arts Centre located right here in Ottawa, meanwhile, people from all across Canada flock here to see amazing art. But as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind reports, Ontario alone has over 180,000 people who are registered as partially sighted or experiencing vision loss – and more needs to be done to ensure that everyone is welcome. From guided “touch tours” to Braille art, there are lots of ways to make sure people who are partially sighted can still enjoy art.

Braille art

The main sense art appeals to is, of course, sight: from movie poster-style travel advertising evoking wonderful vacation memories to the striking lines and shapes created by the Cubists, eye-catching art is certainly powerful. But art also relies on the other senses, too – and that means there’s a golden opportunity for artists who are looking to create something a little outside the box to incorporate low-vision friendly materials and techniques into their works. Braille art, for example, uses the touch-based language to improve access: not only does this kind of media mixing add to a piece’s inherent artistic value, it also means that more people can engage with it. Braille art has a real following these days – and it even appeared on the cover of Rihanna’s album, Anti, in 2016.

Permission to touch the artwork

Most art galleries stipulate that some or all of the artwork contained within it isn’t to be touched. In many ways, this is understandable: many works of art are very precious, and allowing every visitor to touch them could lead to damage over time. But many in the partially sighted community rely on touch not just for their day-to-day living, but also to enjoy many of the artistic pleasures that fully sighted people can take for granted. That’s why major galleries – such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan – run guided “touch tours”, where partially sighted people can engage with art in a tactile and well-managed way.

Those who are partially sighted can sometimes feel like they’re not able to access art as well as fully sighted folks can. But that doesn’t have to be the case. There are a whole host of ways to help those from the low-vision community to get a great gallery or museum experience: from running guided touch tours to using tools like Braille to create amazing, accessible pieces, there are ways to include everyone.

Written by Jane Sandwood, a professional freelance writer and editor.

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