Posted by Delia Chatlani, Assistant Coordinator of Volunteers
As you are reading this, you may want to stop for a moment and feel the touch of your clothes against your skin, enjoy the taste and smell of a nice cup of tea while listening to your choice of music or the sound of birds coming from outside. Here we called all of our five senses into play, but let’s suppose that one of them is missing. With this in mind LUAG launched an art & access initiative for low vision to make the Galleries a more disability friendly environment and to increase the attendance at its events. “We try to enhance our patrons’ museum experience by sensitizing their powers of perception and awakening several of their senses,” said Patricia McAndrew, Coordinator of Volunteers at LUAG.
Almost a year ago LUAG embarked on a new journey as a pioneer in the Lehigh Valley in making the visual arts accessible for people with vision loss. Our first step was to contact Randall Forte from Lehigh Valley Arts Council. In October 2013, Lehigh Valley Arts Council chose LUAG as the venue for the two day workshop, led by audio describer Celia Hughes and Mimi Smith. Attending this workshop, the participants discovered the wonders and challenges of verbal description. Have you ever looked at an art work and tried to describe it in detail? Give it a try! It is a fascinating and sometimes challenging experience.
On January 8th, 2014, LUAG hosted a focus group of visitors from the Center for Vision Loss. Led by Rita Lang, manager of innovative programs of Center for Vision Loss, guests listened to a presentation of five verbal description works from the LUAG teaching collection. The visitors were encouraged to offer ideas and suggestions to help LUAG move forward with plans to promote professional audio description in its galleries. This opportunity once again emphasized that enjoying the visual arts go beyond just using your eyes – it should engage other senses to heighten the individual’s total art experience.
According to U.S. Census data estimates from 2012, the number of non-institutionalized people with disabilities living in the Lehigh Valley is 81,000, or 12.7%, which represents a significant number of potential audiences for the cultural community (“Inside the Arts” Lehigh Valley Arts Council Magazine, July-August 2014, Vol. 26, No. 4). The ability of all participants to participate fully needs to be “an integral and intrinsic value and a core part of business and an asset” (Ms. Betty Siegel, Esq., Director of VSA and Accessibility at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts).
Continuing our efforts to make the museum experience of all our patrons enjoyable, we recently hosted a training session for our staff and volunteers on how to welcome visitors with disabilities. We have learned many things from our trainers from the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living. Moreover, prior to the training, our Main Gallery was assessed by representatives of LVCIL to see if our facility was compliant with legal requirements. We were delighted to find out from our assessors, that the gallery is ready to welcome visitors with disabilities. It offers parking for people with motion disabilities. Elevators and restrooms are also accessible.