Multisensory Access – bringing visual art to life through touch and sound

IT Innovation ChallengesStaff project based in Oxford University Museums.

Spring 2016 round

The project is featured on the ‘Oxford’s Heritage Projects’ page, see
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This project aims to develop multisensory tools to enable blind or partially sighted people (BPSP) to engage with visual arts.

Museums internationally are experimenting with solutions to improve BPSP access to 2D and fragile 3D art (e.g. ). The current trend is to provide raised ‘touch tiles’ that give a physical indication of the visual shapes and textures of the work. Evaluation shows that these raised images are both complex to interpret and miss fine nuances, making them difficult to understand on their own; associated specialist audio description is required, provided by a trained member of staff. The resource requirement to deliver this significantly restricts access for BPSP in terms of availability and the requirement to attend as part of a specially organised visit; this restricts the ability for BPSP to have the independent museum experience that the majority of visitors enjoy.

This project aims to further develop the touch tile approach, both in terms of improving the touch elements of the tile, and using technological solutions to deliver appropriate pre-recorded audio description, lifting resource restrictions. Our aim is to enable the user to examine the art work intuitively, dipping in and out of the different areas of the work and being provided with appropriate audio based on the area of the work they are examining (rather than being restricted to a linear recording). We are also seeking to make this technology relatively cheap and simple to create, ensuring it is practical for broad use.

Our hope is that this technology will not only remove barriers to access, but also provide BPSP with a discovery experience more akin to that of the majority of museum visitors. In addition, the technology can provide new, tactile ways of engaging and understanding the collections to broader museum audiences. We also believe that this technology could have significant applications beyond the museum, for example, within the context of the university, supporting parity of access for students both for art based courses and in providing wider context for other subjects for BPSP students.

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