Feature
Assistant Education Officer at the Institute of Jamaica, Stephanie Rose (left), interacts with students of Jessie Ripoll Primary School, Camp Road, Kingston, at an exhibition held on Jamaica Day (February 22) at the National Arena in Kingston.
Photo: Mark Bell

Story Highlights

  • Visually impaired visitors to the National Museum Jamaica can now appreciate the various artwork and artefacts through the touch of their hands.
  • The museum is making this possible through a ‘Guided Touch Tour’ Educational Programme that allows patrons to learn and explore artefacts through touching.
  • Located on East Street in downtown Kingston, the National Museum Jamaica, a division of the Institute of Jamaica and home to some 17,000 historic and archaeological artefacts, offers Touch Tours to students with vision disabilities every last Friday of the month.

Visually impaired visitors to the National Museum Jamaica can now appreciate the various artwork and artefacts through the touch of their hands.

The museum is making this possible through a ‘Guided Touch Tour’ Educational Programme that allows patrons to learn and explore artefacts through touching.

Located on East Street in downtown Kingston, the National Museum Jamaica, a division of the Institute of Jamaica and home to some 17,000 historic and archaeological artefacts, offers Touch Tours to students with vision disabilities every last Friday of the month.

Assistant Education Officer of the Institute of Jamaica, Stephanie Rose, tells JIS News that the programme was established to engage varied museum audiences, including people with developmental disabilities.

She says that touching the objects (without gloves) “stimulates their imagination and enhances their metaphorical thinking”.

“So, what we are trying to do through this is to enhance their metaphorical thinking for them to explore artefacts in terms of their shape, size, weight and texture,” she adds.

Miss Rose says the tours, which are geared at students of the Salvation Army School for the Blind and other blind communities and organisations, are conducted by a professional tour guide who gives verbal descriptions of the artefacts, tells stories and speaks about the significance of each object and how they relate to Jamaica’s culture and heritage.

“We work in small numbers. We don’t do more than six to 10 students. Before they come in we set up the artefacts chosen from our catalogue, whether it is African objects, Taino objects or objects from the Spanish collection,” she explains.

Miss Rose says that during the tours, students are asked questions regarding the objects, to compare textures so as to encourage dialogue and responses from them.

“It is refreshing to see the responses from these students experiencing history through the art of touching. It is a wonderful experience for them,” she notes, adding that the museum is indeed moving into the 21st century and moving away from the number-one rule, which is “not to touch”.

The tours are also available to other persons who are not necessarily disabled, Miss Rose points out.

“We also have other students participating in the programme,” she says, noting that in some instances the students have to wear gloves to preserve the artefacts for future generations.

Miss Rose says the idea to develop the programme came after many queries from parents, who would enquire about programmes for children with vision disabilities.

“Usually, we didn’t have an answer for them, but as time went on I realised that I had to come up with something, so I started to research and learnt that the visually impaired can learn in a tactile way, and that tactile experiences also help to complete mental images of an object,” she tells JIS News.

Subsequently, she says a proposal containing ideas from staff of the Collections Division that deals with the conservation and preservation of artefacts was written and submitted to the Museum’s Director.

“We came together and said this is something that our museum needs. We need to include disability in our space, and this is one way of letting them feel that they are part of something, so we thought it would be a great idea,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Director, National Museum Jamaica, Dr. Jonathan Greenland, tells JIS News that it is important for the museum to be accessible to as many people as possible.

“The Touch Tours are really part of a wider attempt to serve all the audiences, including persons who are partially sighted or even blind,” he says.

Dr. Greenland points out that only a small number of artefacts can be used in the programme, noting that the collection at the Museum is “very fragile and very valuable”.

According to Dr. Greenland, persons are often surprised that blind people can enjoy going to an art gallery. “Of course, they can, and there are many ways in which you can help them have a better experience,” he adds.

The Director says the museum is working on a wider programme that will include “the use of Braille and audio description, which would be very useful for a blind person to engage and understand”.

He notes that the Museum has been experimenting with audio during exhibitions and that there are now talking screens, cartoon characters who engage with patrons, audio games and animated artefacts at some events at the museum.

“It is a great way for people to feel and engage with the historical artefacts,” Dr. Greenland says.