National Museum makes exhibition barrier-free for visually impaired through Braille, audio guides, and tactile path

At the exhibition, all the touch objects are accompanied by an audio guide, Braille booklet and label and there are also special tiles on the floor for the smooth movement of visually impaired visitor

author_img Team Indulge Published :  05th June 2018 03:42 PM   |   Published :   |  05th June 2018 03:42 PM

A colossal transcontinental exhibition that currently dominates the National Museum space stands out not only for the splendorous artifacts on display but also because a string of these objects have been made tactile for the visually impaired people, setting a trend that makes museum spectatorship in the country a more welcoming, inclusive and barrier-free experience.

The nine-gallery ‘India and the World: A History in Nine Stories’ exhibition, which marks an unprecedented collaboration between National Museum, New Delhi; the British Museum, London; Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghahalaya (CSMVS), Mumbai; and some 20 private collections, showcases extraordinary masterpieces from across the world to place Indian civilization in a global context. Overall, there are 104 iconic works of art from the Indian subcontinent in dialogue with 124 exquisite pieces from the British Museum.

For providing multi-sensory experiences for people with sight problems, National Museum has teamed up with Access for ALL, and Delhi Art Gallery (DAG) to make tactile 18 of these prized objects, some of which are on display for the first time in India. Among these are an original imprint of the Indian Constitution; a Mughal painting showing Jehangir holding portrait of Virgin Mary; a metal humped bull of the Harappan times; Roman and Chinese coins (20 cm diameter); a 3D model of charkha, and a painting of malefic planet Rahu.

Siddhant Shah, an access consultant with Access for All, said these objects were selected keeping in mind their historical significance and the impact they would make on a person with visual impairment.

“Thus, we have written the entire Indian Constitution in Braille as it will help the visually impaired people to read and understand its ethos….My team worked on it for three months to get the Braille imprint. Likewise, the tactile model of the charkha gives them a tangible experience of Mahatma Gandhi’s ethos. We also wanted to highlight its importance on the tricolor and of self-reliance through the stories associated with it,” he explained.

All the touch objects are accompanied by an audio guide, Braille booklet and label and there are also special tiles on the floor for the smooth movement of visually impaired visitors. “The idea is to let them be independent with the use of audio guide and tactile paths so that they can decide what they want to 'touch, feel and know' just like us,” he said, adding: “Any visitor can touch these objects, not necessarily those with sight problems.”

Multiple technologies are used to create tactile renditions, said Shah, a heritage architect and design consultant with UNESCO to make World Heritage sites in India disabled-friendly. “The objects were given a relief or depth for developing a 3D rendition, followed by Braille labelling, to make them comprehensible for the visually impaired visitors. We created objects in an economic manner as 3d printing and laser routing are expensive,” he explained.

National Museum Director-General Dr B R Mani said this is one of the premier exhibitions in the country where one can find so many tactile renditions, tactile pavers, Braille books and audio guides, especially designed for the visually impaired audiences.

“A museum visit should not be unsettling and forbidding for people with disabilities. It is a visual delight for many but with the help of assistive technologies it can also be turned into an experiential journey for those with sight problems. We see visitors with disabilities as important as anyone else, and a tactile dialogue with aesthetic objects is the way out,” he added.

Observing that prominent museums in Britain, Greece and other European countries try to make their exhibitions accessible with a large number of tactile objects, Dr Mani said the museum is making concerted efforts to build a structured system for increasing the footfalls, and a greater participation of differently abled people is a step in that direction. The museum has already set up ‘Anubhav – A Tactile Gallery’ for the benefit of visually impaired people.

The Education Department of the museum has planned a series of sensitization workshops with the participation of blind and sighted people together as part of the exhibition. Some of these programmes are: currency design; blindfold photography; build a monument/ palace; and clay molding.

Rige Shiba, National Museum Education Officer who also handles its access initiative, said the museum has been doing its bit in making its collection accessible to all, and temporary exhibitions are no exception. “With so many firsts, we are hoping that this exhibition will inspire many traditional museums across India to experiment and adapt with time so that our rich heritage displayed in these spaces becomes accessible to all,” she added.