Date: February 2012
Partner: Bata Shoe Museum
Venue: Bata Shoe Museum
Project Members: Laura Robb and Jacqueline Reich
In partnership with the Bata Shoe Museum, this exhibition related project establishes unique gallery programs specifically designed for visitors with low-vision/no vision. Using descriptive techniques, sounds, touch objects and custom designed tactile aids, guided tours are available for the exhibitions: Beauty Identity Pride – Native North American Footwear; The Roaring Twenties – Heels, Hemlines and High Spirits; and All about Shoes – Footwear through the Ages.
The project began in August 2011. The Bata Shoe Museum was in an ideal position to introduce a multisensory program for visitors who are blind or have low vision, owing to their education department’s large hands-on collection.
Exhibition project description and components
Although Bata was well-suited to implement a multisensory program, it still required additional work to synthesize everything together and create a cohesive program for visitors who are blind or have low vision.
We included the following elements to SENSEsational Multisensory Tours:
• Custom-designed touch samples
• A docent training program
• A manual, detailing training techniques, and suggestions for constructing tactile diagrams for future exhibitions
Custom-designed touch samples: first element
We constructed two separate types of touch samples for the project: raised-line diagrams and material samples. The raised-line diagrams showcase design elements of the footwear on display. These designs range from beaded images on moccasin, leather cut-outs on Western fashion shoes, or design principles for specific eras.
We used white plastic paint to emulate the feeling of beads, and white sheets of soft, plastic “foam” to mimic the texture of leather. We also used additional fabrics to reflect the appropriate textures of the source objects. All of Bata Museum’s artifacts are under plexiglass; though there is an extensive hands-on collection, visitors cannot touch objects on display. This contrasts the multisensory programs at the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Art Gallery of Ontario, and so it was important to us that the raised-line diagrams created an accurate feeling of the objects they represented.
We mounted these materials on black illustration board, to create high contrast images (for visitors with some vision), and then attached the illustration board to sintras panels with velcro. This gave the diagrams stability and ensured that Bata could reuse the sintras panels for tactile diagrams for future exhibitions. The other touch sample we created was a fabric book, which represents the various materials that appear in the collection, including velvet, brocade, silk, cotton, Seminole patchwork, and tulle. This book aided in our descriptions, as it allowed visitors to feel what the artifacts might feel like if Bata kept display cases open.
Docent training program: second element
After we established a multisensory program for the museum’s Beauty, Identity, Pride exhibition, we extended an invitation to the museum’s docents to participate in 90-minute training workshops during February 2012. Workshops taught docents how to effectively lead a tour for visitors who are blind or have low vision, how to utilize tactile diagrams and material samples, and how to give an accurate description of displayed artifacts. The training series culminated in a one-day practice session with human rights activist John Rae. In this session, we gave docents the opportunity to practice what they learned with a member of the target audience.
The gallery set-up guides and training manual: third element
Understanding the high turnover nature of Bata’s docent program we understood the importance of including set-up manuals for the gallery tours designed. The set-up guides provide newly trained docents with step-by-step instructions outlining which tactile aids are used in each gallery and various talking points for each component. The set-up guides include photographs of every component, including tactile aids and authentic objects as well as details regarding storage. The set-up guides are not a substitute for training, but provide additional support for docents who are new to the multisensory tours. These guides also ensure that the tours conducted are consistent with our originally designed intent.
The training manual is the most important written component and represents the final element to the project. Like the docent training and set-up guides, the training manual ensures the continuation of the program. It discusses how to make tactile supports, and considerations to make when giving a tour for this audience.