Art education to break barriers

Museums are an invaluable repository of heritage and culture. Sadly, as with several public sites, they are often inaccessible to the differently-abled. To speak on the topic, Rebecca McGinnis, Museum Educator -- Access and Community Programs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, will be visiting the CSMVS. Excerpts from an interview with McGinnis:

By means of touching an object, the visually challenged can help focus on the artwork or sculpture

Can you tell us a bit about what will be the main focus of your talk, Enabling Education: Including People With Disabilities in Art Museum Education? The talk will focus on one prominent paradigm of accessibility, universal design, as applied in a museum setting. It emphasises the need to create products, environments, and educational opportunities with all potential users in mind. I will also introduce some of the programmes wea have developed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art including programmes for people who are visually impaired or partially sighted; people with developmental disabilities; the hearing impaired and people with Alzheimer’s disease and their care partners.

One way to engage the physically challenged is to let them touch an artist’s materials, like those used to make a work of art on display, to understand how the object was made

Have there been initiatives to involve the physically challenged to work in museums, elsewhere globally?
Yes, many museums have developed programmes and accommodations to make their buildings, collections, and
education programming, accessible to people with various types of disabilities (physical, sensory, developmental, etc). However, there is still a lot of work to be done around the world, to make cultural heritage accessible to the billion plus people with disabilities (that’s about 15% of the world’s population, according to the World Health Organization).

What are some of the aspects that the physically challenged can specifically learn in art museum education?
Like people without disabilities, people with disabilities may have various motivations for wanting to experience art museum collections -- an interest in art or a related field like history; interest in making art themselves; a desire for a social experience with friends; or exposure to new ideas. Recognising these motivations, art museum educators can create experiences using, for example, multisensory teaching strategies that enhance accessibility and promote learning. For example, they might offer an opportunity to touch an artist’s materials like those used to make a work of art on display -- in order to help people understand how the object was made. People with visual disabilities can learn through touch and verbal description and discussion. Fully sighted people can also learn about how an object is made by seeing and touching these materials. People with developmental disabilities and people with Alzheimer’s disease can also benefit from a tactile experience, which can improve attention. Finding connections between works of art and our own lives, i.e. relevance, is another type of learning that we should be encouraging in art museums.

Meanwhile, in Mumbai...
Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Director, CSMVS
The Museum implements inclusive policies and has provisions for the physically challenged. There are ramps, audio-visual programmes, museum boards that offer intimation of the programmes and facilities available and the staff have also been trained to take care of the physically challenged visitors. We are also looking at more collaborations with The Metropolitan Museum of Art; we will be sending exhibits for a Deccani painting exhibition to be held in 2015 and we will jointly host educational programmes and lectures, such as this one.

Also attend…
Dr Timothy Barringer, Paul Mellon Professor of the History of Art, Yale University, will be speaking on Colonial Gothic: John Lockwood Kipling and Victorian Bombay.

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