How can informal STEM learning programs support individuals with vision impairments?
There are many ways that informal STEM learning programs can support individuals with vision impairments. Ensuring that websites are accessible, that videos are captioned and, ideally, audio described, and that other electronic media is provided in accessible formats will help patrons with vision impairments feel welcome.
The use of audio guides or audio descriptions, which describe exhibits and offerings using audio output through a hand-held device, can help facilitate museum exploration. Such devices can provide information about the history, context, and detailed descriptions of items on display.
An innovative approach is offering artworks in a touchable 3D format. An example of this is the tactile art exhibit at the Woodson Art Museum.
Multisensory exhibits may include sound, touch, and smell components along with sight to offer a unique and more accessible experience for visitors with vision impairments and be more engaging for many other people. The Experimental Multisensory Museum Space, within the Van Abbe Museum, is an example.
Asking patrons about their experiences and barriers is an excellent way to learn more about improving access. The article Museums Are Finally Taking Accessibility for Visitors with Disabilities Seriously describes how the Museum of Modern Art in New York engaged a group of ten individuals with a variety of disabilities to inform their facility offerings, remodel efforts, and staff training.
Consistently considering accessibility issues of museum offerings for all potential visitors is an example of an adoption of universal design (UD) principles. Universal design means that rather than designing for the average user, you design for people with differing native languages, genders, racial and ethnic backgrounds, abilities, disabilities, and other characteristics. For more information about UD, consult the Center on UD in Education.
For more information about supporting individuals with low vision in informal STEM learning programs, check out the article Touchable Art: More Museums Making Art Accessible to the Blind via Technology, and visit the Access Informal STEM Learning (AccessISL) website.