Categories

Museum Allows Blind Children to "See" with their Fingers.

The first time I took Addie to the Indianapolis Museum of Art every footstep was closely followed by those of a docent, making sure my little three-year-old didn’t get out of hand. We did fine until we got to the top floor where all the contemporary art is housed. “Yes, Addie, that is a chair stuck to the wall and no, we cannot sit in it because it is art.” Perhaps I’m doing my child a horrible disservice but I just don’t understand a whole lot of contemporary art. I still take her to the IMA on occasion and only recently has she been able to understand that those pieces of yarn hanging from the ceiling are not cat toys but in fact someone’s idea of art.

I can only think of two museums in my childhood where I was allowed to touch anything and everything. I lived for those museums. One was the Exploratorium in San Francisco and the other was the Children’s Museum in Salt Lake City. We currently live in Indianapolis, home of the world’s largest children’s museum but we are also surrounded by our fair share of “no touchy” museums.

We have generally avoided the no touchy museums up to this point.

Museums allow us to see things we would never otherwise see, but what about those who cannot see? When I stumbled on the following collection of photos from the early 20th century of a museum in England that allowed blind children to come in and experience parts of the museum with their fingers? I got chills.

“To them, their fingers are eyes.” John Alfred Charlton Deas, was the former curator at Sunderland Museum in England and starting in 1913 he organized several “hands on” collections and invited children, and later adults, from schools for the blind to come experience everything from a stuffed walrus, a human skeleton to 19th century armor with their fingertips.

nggallery id=’126840′

  • Two sighted guides let blind girls explore a model train. 1 of 11
    Two sighted guides let blind girls explore a model train.
    "Making collections as accessible as possible, is what Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums strive for. A pioneer in this field was Charlton Deas, a former curator at Sunderland Museum. From 1913, John Alfred Charlton Deas, organised several handling sessions for the blind, first offering an invitation to the children from the Sunderland Council Blind School, to handle a few of the collections at Sunderland Museum, which was ‘eagerly accepted'."
  • Blind girl seeing birds with her fingers. 2 of 11
    Blind girl seeing birds with her fingers.
    "However carefully the children were informed that their small model of a cow was only one-fortieth the size of the real animal, they were unable to think of the cow as anything larger then the model."
  • Blind children experiencing a stuffed walrus. 3 of 11
    Blind children experiencing a stuffed walrus.
    "{This is} because unless they have had actual tactile contact with something, there is "no standard of size, form and texture" to relate it to"
  • Two Blind Girls seeing doll house tea service with their hands. 4 of 11
    Two Blind Girls seeing doll house tea service with their hands.
    "The first session concentrated on paintings and drawings, each thoroughly described to the visitors, who then were able to ‘see' through touch, by feeling for the outlines made by the brushstrokes, so that they could identify the main features of the painting. "
  • A collection of animals for children to experience. 5 of 11
    A collection of animals for children to experience.
    "The sessions that were offered to the children from the blind school were so successful that Deas went on to develop and arrange a course of regular handling sessions, extending the invitations to blind adults."
  • Blind children riding a stuffed lion. 6 of 11
    Blind children riding a stuffed lion.
    "Deas devoted the session to natural history objects. Directed by a guide, the blind visitors examined each specimen and descriptive labels were supplied, to give them extra knowledge of the object and subject surrounding it."
  • Blind children experiencing reptiles. 7 of 11
    Blind children experiencing reptiles.
    "The next handling Sunday session was dedicated to reptiles, being shown a crocodile, turtle, python, snake, blue shark and various fish."
  • Blind children experiencing arms at the Sunderland museum. 8 of 11
    Blind children experiencing arms at the Sunderland museum.
    "The work that J. A. Charlton Deas carried out whilst at Sunderland Museum is much to be admired. His interest in the education of the blind and his determination to assist in their development, had a great impact on how they now viewed the subjects."
  • Blind children seeing a stuffed polar bear with their fingers. 9 of 11
    Blind children seeing a stuffed polar bear with their fingers.
    "Dr. H. K. Wallace (a local zoologist) gave a brief lecture for the first natural history Sunday session, which visitors examined a chimpanzee, lion, lioness and cubs, tiger, polar bear, badger, otter, wolf, seal, walrus and many others."
  • Blind children sit in an 1888 canoe. 10 of 11
    Blind children sit in an 1888 canoe.
    "In a letter from the childrens teacher, Mr. Walker wrote: "The appeal made to their imagination has raised the level of discussions to a higher plane…Where there was darkness and lack of form, there are now struggling notions of shape and size…With minds better stored than their predecessors, they ought to be keener observers, better workers and more intelligent citizens…""
  • Models made by blind children 5 weeks after their visit. 11 of 11
    Models made by blind children 5 weeks after their visit.
    "Some of the children produced clay models based on the collections that they had handled at the museum. Ranging from 8 to 15 years old, these blind children created these models 5 weeks after their visits, some without any previous experience in handling clay. These were then displayed at Sunderland museum in cases along with photographs of their visits."

Images courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrPinterest
Tagged as:

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, profile photo and other personal information you make public on Facebook (e.g., school, work, current city, age) will appear with your comment. Learn More.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrPinterest