Here's how the Penn Museum wants to engage visitors with vision loss - Generocity Philly


Nov. 30, 2017 11:18 am

Here’s how the Penn Museum wants to engage visitors with vision loss

The history museum is expanding on the "touch tours" it's been offering for more than five years at some of its galleries.

A staffer helping a visitor with low sight touch an Egyptian artifact.

(Photo via

If you’ve ever been to a museum, you know that most of the art and items you see on display have strict “no-touching” policies.

But more of these institutions are finding new ways to service visitors who are dealing with disabilities, namely vision loss, to increase their potential to enjoy museums. The Penn Museum is one of the places that started offering “touch tours” more than five years ago at some of its galleries, where participants would be able to touch real artifacts.

Those touch experiences, produced in collaboration with technologist Austin Seraphin’s Philly Touch Tours, were funded with a grant from the Albert B. Millett Memorial Fund. More recently, the Penn Museum has been using those funds to work on a new experience for visitors with disabilities that engage more than just their sense of touch.

The museum calls the experience “History in Every Sense” through which museum staff create boxes containing items that help visitors understand different aspects of history. For example, to help visitors understand what Roman dining was like, the boxes may contain replica Roman plates and cups for people to touch, Roman bread for them to taste, Roman fish sauce to smell and Latin poetry to hear.

The museum recently began prototyping this experience with seniors from Citizens Acting Together Can Help (CATCH) Inc., a provider of community behavioral health and developmental disability services, and Penn hopes to have one of these experiences included for its Rome, Egypt and forthcoming Middle East galleries.

It’s just one of the many examples we’ve been seeing recently of Philly organizations wanting to help all kinds of folks enjoy the arts. But let’s not forget there can always be more connective work done around the city when it comes to accessibility — something EvoXLabs founder Ather Sharif pointed out before he left Philly for Chicago.

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