Commentary: Accessible and Inclusive Art

Feb. 2, 2016

Last year, several events were held to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the ADA. Many of these celebrations were centered around making art and museum exhibits accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. I recently came across an article about the reVISION art exhibit, an event that took place in Indiana for the very first time. Although the exhibition was not part of the ADA celebration, its main purpose is to make art accessible and inclusive to everyone. All visitors – both blind and sighted – are allowed to touch the different art pieces. The inspiration for this exhibit came from Meredith Howell, the mother of a child with severe vision loss.

I was honestly skeptical when I learned about this exhibit. Previously, many well-intentioned but unsuccessful attempts have been made to include blind and visually impaired folks in art exhibitions. I have gone to art exhibits that claim to be accessible, only to find that accommodations are minimal at best. While I appreciate and enjoy reading the Braille descriptions near paintings and getting to feel parts of some of the sculptures, this doesn’t always give me the full picture. The reality is that when you have vision loss you need to have a combination of various tactile and verbal features in order to appreciate visual works of art as much as possible. I would have probably enjoyed these so-called accessible exhibits had they included detailed verbal descriptions.

The unique aspect about the reVISION exhibit that caught my eye (pun intended) is the way in which everyone could interact with the art pieces. It was created with different materials including yarn, clay, wood, fleece, plaster and tactile paint. In other words, people could enjoy the art by both looking and feeling it. This leads me to wonder who got the most out of the exhibit. Blind and visually impaired participants were able to appreciate the different textures, but sighted visitors got the opportunity to use their sense of touch. Unfortunately this is a sense that those with 20/20 vision take for granted and seldom use to its fullest potential! Better yet, sighted visitors were able to learn about visual impairments by putting on special goggles while they touched the art, so we could say that they got a glimpse into the lives of blind and visually impaired individuals.

Kudos to Howell and all participating organizations and artists for their dedication and effort in making this exhibit possible. The reVISION exhibit not only made art accessible to those with vision loss, but it also allowed the general public to better understand blindness and visual impairment. I truly hope that this and similar events will continue for many years to come. Those of us with disabilities are constantly fighting for equal access, and we will only accomplish this by spreading awareness and understanding to the general public. These efforts should be ongoing; it is not necessary for us to wait until the next ADA celebration to commit to accessibility and inclusion.

In case you missed it, check out the article here.

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