Planning a Museum Trip – Tips for Parents of Children with Vision Loss

by Josephine Murray

Visiting a museum with a child who is blind or has low vision may seem like a tough thing to do, but just like many parenting tasks, if you break things down and prepare ahead, the seemingly ominous project may not be so tough after all. My daughter, who is visually impaired, and I live in New York City, where we’ve visited most of the museums I’ve mentioned here.

Planning Your Visit

Museum Website

A museum’s website will provide helpful information including hours of operation and directions. There may even be a section for visitors with disabilities. I strongly suggest you review the museum’s website to help you plan your visit. It seems to me that museums are expanding their offerings for visitors with disabilities.

Tours

Some museums offer monthly tours specially tailored for visitors with little or no vision. The Guggenheim provides monthly tours for the people with vision loss. Since you’re visiting with a child, it might be best to inform them beforehand, since most tours are geared towards adults. I’ve been lucky in telling the tour guide that I wanted to join the tour, and we were both welcome.

Some art museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, offer free audio devices for visitors with vision loss. There might even be apps available that you can download to your iOS or Android device for audio description.

Some museums might have a sign-up list for its special tours for guests who are blind or visually impaired, and you will be notified by email regarding availability. Many of these kinds of tours are free but require signing up in advance, so that they know how many guides to provide. The American Museum of Natural History has monthly “Science Sense” tours specially created for visitors who are visually impaired. Please note that these were geared towards adults, but that my child and I were welcomed with advance notice. For additional information or to register for a Science Sense tour, please call 212-769-5567 or email ldrake@amnh.org.

Of course, most museums are not as large and complicated as some in New York City. This would be an advantage because you can usually plan your visit on a more personal level. Given advance notice and a preliminary discussion with the guides or administrators regarding your child’s level of vision and unique needs, your tour/visit could be tailored to your child. Museums who may not be used to working with children who are blind or have low vision are happy to make their art available and accessible. All you have to do is ask.

Touching Art

While you’re still in the planning stages, you might also want to have a talk with your family about not touching objects in the museum. Most museums have a strict policy in this regard. Our hands have natural oils on them that can damage artwork and historical artifacts. You can explain to your children that hundreds of hands touching a piece of art can make it slowly erode over time, the same way that a bar of soap can get smaller and smaller with every use until it becomes too tiny to use. However, there might be a special room for children where they can handle different objects. The American Museum of Natural History has a “Discovery Room” where children are invited to explore various objects with their hands. In fact, a smaller museum may have the flexibility to provide special objects to touch.

Food

It might also be a good idea to think about when and where you’re going to eat. Most museums have a cafeteria or at least a cafe. After your group is finally experiencing the museum as planned, you don’t want to ruin it. It might be wise to find something else to eat on the way out, in case your group is particularly hungry after walking around the museum. I’ve also found this to be an excellent way to keep my child motivated. “If you can just go through one gallery with me, we’ll go get burgers at “restaurant x” just a few blocks away.” Keep in mind that many museums might have a strict “no food or beverages” policy so you may not be able to bring in any snacks or drinks.

At the Museum

Probably all museums have a security team at the front entrance to inspect your bags for dangerous or unwelcome materials. You might tell your group that their bags will be inspected before entering the museum. Usually, the guards ask patrons to open their bags to take a quick look. If you’re going to one of those museums with a strict “no food or beverage” policy, you might be asked to step outside if you have food or drinks with you and either throw away your food or drink or finish it before entering the museum.

There might be some museums with a metal detector so you might be asked to put your bags on a conveyor belt while you walk through the metal detector, just like at the airport. Best to prepare your kids about these details before going.

Many children’s museums offer a variety of tactile experiences, where young children are welcome and encouraged to touch all kinds of things. A friend of mine from Southern New Jersey is a big fan of the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, PA. She would recommend it for anyone with a child under 7 years of age, whether they have vision loss or not.

If you have any questions, you can contact any museum you wish to visit as there’s almost always someone to assist you and provide more information.

I hope these ideas might help you and your family plan an enjoyable trip to a museum, local or otherwise.