How do the blind and partially sighted access the aircraft collections at the Imperial War Museum?

October 8, 2010

Aircraft are big objects, and it is not always possible for people to explore such objects through touch. IWM Duxford has won prizes for their programs for visually impaired visitors.

Tomorrow is the final day of a three-day conference about managing large technology objects in museums, held at IWM Duxford. Today we heard a very interesting paper by Carl Warner about how the museum has worked with the vision-impaired community.

Carl made the point that through engagement with the community (rather than simply relying on the services of an access consultant) the museum was able to devise some new ways for people with vision impairment to explore the museum and its collections. He reminded us, too, that many vision impaired people do have some sight, so it is important to think about colour contrasts etc which can be easier for partially-sighted people to distinguish. He told us that one message that came out clearly from the consultation process was the vision impaired people wanted to have choices in how they learned about the collections – a one-size fits all tour, where the visitor has no choices or power is not the ideal.

A touch panel at the IWM - visitors are able to feel examples of various materials related to the collection.

Audio tours are an obvious opportunity, and Carl played us a short excerpt of a tour of the main pavilion. The language and descriptions were beautifully evocative, describing size, colour, shape, detail and history of some of the aircraft on display. There is a section of the museum where visitors (not just the vision impaired) can touch some of the materials used in the construction of aircraft. This is immensely popular with sighted people, too.

The panel at the bottom is a model of the plane that is described in the text around it. Vision impaired people can get a sense of the shape and size of the object by touching the model.

 Another idea the museum has used is to create some models of aircraft that people can feel to get a sense of the shape of the aircraft. A scale model human is also included to help people understand the relative sizes of the aircraft being discussed. 

There is one display – a cockpit of a small aircraft – that people can touch, and the audio tour compares the sizes and shapes of other aircraft with the one that people have been able to touch, allowing them to get more of an understanding about aircraft they can’t touch through this process. 

Carl told us, too, that when the museum makes films as part of their interpretation, they ensure that the words make sense without the pictures. The films also feature sign language translations for those with hearing impairment.

While not every museum has the resources to create new programs and interpretation for vision impaired people, Carl made the point that any small step forward it worthwhile. His key message was talk to people and find out what they would like from their museum experience. Doesn’t sound too hard, does it?


2 Responses to “How do the blind and partially sighted access the aircraft collections at the Imperial War Museum?”

  1. Caz Says:

    Hi Allison. Thanks for your posts so far. I love a good low-tech interactive too although I’m currently involved in developing digital resources for schools using the Victorian Arts Centre’s Performing Arts Collection. Hope you’re happy a great time!

    • Thanks, Caz.

      There are certainly some great interactives out there using technology, too – it is a powerful tool, with loads of options for interpretation and learning. Good luck with the work that you are doing.


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