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Incredible - Visually Impaired Husband was able to Touch a Michaelangelo Sculpture at the Accademia!

We just returned from a five week trip to Italy. My husband is visually impaired but enjoys art, especially sculpture. I contacted various museums to inquire if there were special tours for the blind. The Accademia initially told me they did not have one, but was hoping to develop a special tour by the end of the year. I told them when we would be visiting, and volunteered my husband as a test subject. To my surprise, they took me up on my offer. Two museum personnel accompanied us throughout the museum and had selected works for him to see up close. The piece would be described and its significance. Then with a pair of gloves, my husband was able to touch. The highlight was able to feel the chisel marks made by Michaelangelo on the Young Slave! "Seeing" the statue of David was lost on my husband, but being up close and feeling the Young Slave, my husband could understand how Michaelangelo was releasing the slave from the piece of marble. It was unbelievable to watch.

The Vatican has special tours for the blind. Two museum personnel accompanied us through the museums and the Sistine Chapel. We went to a room where only people on the blind tour are taken. Again, armed with gloves, there were sculptures and a sarcophagus he could touch. A multi-sensory experience was provided to help him understand a fresco. There were fabrics to simulate the cloth draped on the angels in the piece. He was able to hold and play a stringed instrument that was in the fresco. There were scents for him to smell. He listened to a musical recording viewing the piece and it sounded as though the angels were playing the instruments in the piece. It made me teary. The frescoes in the Sistine Chapel were explained and viewed on a huge touch screen before entering the chapel. While viewing the Sistine Chapel was difficult for my husband, he had a sense of what was there due to the in-depth instruction with the touch screen. The personnel spent 3 hours with us.

While at Santa Croce, a worker noticed us (my husband had his guide dog with him). He came over and with hand gestures, asked us to follow him. He then took us to several of the tombs and allowed my husband to touch. He was able to touch the tombs of Michaelangelo, Rossini, and Galileo. This was unexpected and definitely a highlight.

For the disabled and their companion, admission to museums is free. We also get to skip the line. My husband's guide dog was welcomed everywhere. For the Vatican, you must let them know at least a day ahead that you will be bringing your guide dog.

The kindness we received was overwhelming. We are already planning a return trip to Italy.

Posted by
314 posts

This is awesome, I'm so happy they had such rich and thoughtful experiences available to you!

Posted by
6925 posts

Fantastic - your thoughtfulness in calling ahead, and of those who hosted you and who are thinking of how to make these experiences reach to everyone. And there's no telling who will be inspired by your post here to undertake a similar effort for a loved one! I'm so glad you had a wonderful experience in Italy.

Posted by
68 posts

What a beautiful experience- thank you so much for sharing!

Posted by
4734 posts

Wow! What wonderful programs. Thank you for telling us about them.

Posted by
12788 posts

Awesome. Just goes to show that kindness and compassion is alive and well in this world.

Great post, jvb, and I am delighted that your trip turned out to be far more rewarding for BOTH of you than expected.

Posted by
1957 posts

What an inspiring post of a truly awesome experience for both of you. Thank you for posting this most positive experience for the education of all of us readers. I had no idea how kind and amazing staff at those particular museums could be.

Posted by
3932 posts

What a wonderful experience for both of you! I especially like the thoughtfulness of thinking about all of the senses - smell, hearing music to combine for a more complete sensory "picture" to remember.

If you're ever in Paris, there's a section of sculptures in the Louvre, also. I didn't realize it until I was enjoying a favorite angel sculpture and read the info.

Posted by
11613 posts

Wonderful description and important information. I am sure other museums will follow suit.

Posted by
224 posts

How fantastic! I am so glad that your husband was able to experience so much art in Italy. Thank you for sharing your experience, it sounds like it was a great trip.

Posted by
941 posts

I think it is fabulous that both you and your husband were able to experience this. I wonder if any museums in the US have this type of program?

Posted by
208 posts

That makes my heart sing! Thank you for sharing.

Posted by
157 posts

This is so inspiring. I once saw a blind woman at the Musee Rodin in Paris helped to touch the face,delicate hat and flowers on a clay model for one of Rodin's sculptures. She probably went on to touch other works of art under supervision. That museum is one of my lifelong memories of Paris. The movie on Camille Claudel enriched my grasp of it. We know that Monet went blind, so perhaps the French have a special affinity for the visually impaired. Any other reports of welcoming art museums? I hope so.

Posted by
440 posts

Wow that is an amazing thing just goes to show all people can enjoy art. All Museums should do this

Posted by
11275 posts

I'm so glad to hear that your husband was able to have such a great experience, and that you posted the details to help others. Thanks so much!

Posted by
1111 posts

Another welcoming museum: the Acropolis museum.

No pre-booking, no pre-inquiring - amazing spontaneous friendliness from the attendants. The blind person was allowed to touch and feel all the reliefs.

Extremely unwelcoming - don't ever go with a blind person: museums in the United States (NYC, Washington D.C.).

No touching even of models of the exhibits, no touching of sculptures that were out in the open, exposed to all kinds of weather and pollution day and night.

What was really ironic about that was that they had a special employee in charge of accessibility issues (they were probably required by law to have that). This person expressed her regret. That was all she could do.

Posted by
343 posts

Anna, the BMW Museum in Munich was wonderful. They provided my husband with a pair of gloves and let him touch everything. From the earliest motorcycles to the latest cars he was able to appreciate the beauty and the aerodynamic shape of the designs by touch. Hearst Castle in California allowed touching of everything but the tapestries and silver. It's unfortunate the museums in NYC and D.C. are not so inclusive.

Posted by
1062 posts

Anna, I'm so sorry to hear of your frustrating experiences at some museums in the US. I would love to give a plug for some of the museums in the US that are doing great work surrounding accessibility in case you would like to take advantage of some of their programming. For example, the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in NYC offers a tactile guide (more info here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tV5SZjnDCig) of the museum. Also, with advanced notice, visitors who are blind or who have low vision can book a touch tour with an educator for no additional cost. Educators are trained in verbal description and provide models and access to touchable artifacts and exhibitions. Check out their website for more information: https://www.intrepidmuseum.org/access#3

This is just one museum offering these services. Also in NYC, MoMa and the Metropolitan Museum also offer great resources for visitors who are blind or who have low vision, including touch tours, braille maps, and audio guides. More info is available on their websites: https://www.moma.org/visit/accessibility/sight and http://www.metmuseum.org/events/programs/access/visitors-who-are-blind-or-partially-sighted.

The Museum Access Consortium in NYC also compiles a calendar of programming across the city and offers resources on their website: http://museumaccessconsortium.org/professional-development-3/resources/

In general, if you would like to book a touch tour at any of these museums, just make sure to plan in advance and check their website/call ahead, as many need to book several weeks in advance. You can still take advantage of the other resources the day-of, though.

I hope that this is helpful!

Posted by
1111 posts

Thank you for your tips! I'll certainly note these down for future trips!

I do certainly understand their concern about their valuable exhibits, and I am aware that there is a mixture of sweat, grease, salt and whatever on human hands that can damage sensitive exhibits. And I fully understand they cannot have every group of school children fumbling all their artwork. But in the first place, these are special circumstances and not just a group of kids who CAN learn to use their eyes. And in the second place, these exhibits were not nearly as sensitive as those at the Acropolis. A MODEL of an exhibit, and sculptures continually exposed to every kind of weather and pollution - for crying out loud, that's just plain ridiculous.

It's a couple of years ago now that all this happened, but if my memory serves me right, it was actually at the Metropolitan Museum where we had one of these really frustrating experiences. Let's just hope that they have improved their policy in the meantime.

Touch tours are a wonderful idea, and it certainly is a great improvement if they have those. The downside of that is that they will of course limit the tour to what the museum thinks fit to present - not what the blind person themselves may be interested in. Like in a museum of musical instruments where they will take two or three instruments out of their glass showcases and leave all the rest under lock and key. These tours are a definite improvement for sure, but they are still far from being an inclusive museum experience.

Posted by
681 posts

WOW! That was amazing. I am glad that there is still kindness and generosity in the world.