06 October 2015

Capstone Project Check-In: 10/6/15

Hello! As you can imagine from my sporadic absence, I've been busy as a bee. All good things really, making some fantastic connections, filling out plenty of paperwork, and my project is moving forward wonderfully.

The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum


  • My first big required deadline was last Friday. I turned in my MUSE Capstone Project Approval Form, which entailed an updated project proposal, the names of my advisors, a detailed timeline, milestones I'm trying to hit, and some justification for the project itself. 
  • On Thursday, we had our first required all-cohort meeting to present our initial thoughts and progress to one another. The main takeaway for me is that I really need to nail down what question I am asking through my project. 
    • What am I hoping to address? 
    • How does my project fit into existing work in the field? 
    • What am I going to do with the data I collect?
  • I've made a lot of important connections in the last two weeks.
    • Jennifer Scott, the Director of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum has generously agreed to collaborate with the museum and their staff to conduct my research
    • Peter Berg, the Project Coordinator for Technical Assistance and Employer Outreach for Great Lakes ADA met with me last week to discuss how I can get in touch with members of the low-vision community in Chicago to conduct a survey. He also provided me with MANY resources around legal issues in making public spaces ADA compliant. He tipped me off to two recent court settlements around access in museums in DC, which I might use as examples for how access goes beyond architectural barriers.
    • I met Byron Harden of I See Music, LLC last night. He runs a production company and recording studio that also doubles as a vocational school for low-vision and blind students, teaching them how to record, produce, and edit audio of all sorts. This serendipitous meeting has me thinking what a fantastic fit his company would be to record, produce, and edit the audio tour for the Hull-House at a later date.
    • I also chatted with Danielle Linzer, the Director of Access and Public Engagement at the Whitney Museum about the museum's offerings for low-vision visitors. She informed me that they make all of their tactile educational models in house, and that they aren't merely 3-D reproductions of the original art object. Rather, they are reproductions of the art made by education staff - the focus is not only on the tactile quality of the educational tool, but the materiality and process of making it. They made a reproduction of a Mike Kelley sculpture in which they had to go to thrift stores in search of used stuffed animals to repurpose for a replica. The matted worn materials as well as the smell of the toys added a layer of meaning to the way educators and visitors engage with the object. 
    • I met Steve Landau, of Touch Graphics Inc. while at the ICOM-CECA Conference in Washington, DC. This was also pretty serendipitous, given that I'd interacted with one of his 3D audio descriptive models while visiting the San Diego Museum of Art back in January. The experience of touching a reproduction of a painting that was programmed to walk me through the visual components and historical context of the work is something that has stuck with me since I touched the painting earlier this year. To actually meet the man who made it was surreal!
  • I finally finished my CITI Training and have begun to move through the arduous, jargony, time-consuming paperwork for IRB review. Well actually, I'm technically exempt, which means I don't have to go through the full convening of the Board, but I still need to fill out loads of paperwork explaining my research methodology, the point of my project, the surveys I plan on administering, how I will attain consent from the survey participants, and how I will securely store the survey results. I have my work cut out for me!!

  • Tackle the IRB paperwork
    • Write my research protocol
    • Edit the Exemption form
    • Finish writing my survey for vision-impaired individuals
    • Finish writing my interview questions for those working in audio descriptive lines of work
    • Write my consent language
    • Submit, cross fingers, attain approval!
  • Reading all of the articles and books I've gathered on how vision-impairment has been addressed in various ways at different museums in the United States
  • Begin to build my house museum cohort for house museum survey (I would like to email at least 100 spaces)
  • Learn about ADA requirements for access in museums (thanks to Peter Berg for giving me great resources!!)
  • Continue to meet with Jennifer and Carrie with project updates

11 September 2015

Access In Museums: A Research Project in 6 Parts (Part 6)


Through my research over the course of this semester, all roads led back to the Art Institute. The critiques I held upon my departure from the institution found some solutions, as well as the beginnings of a potential shift within the museum structure. While the building is ADA compliant, there’s a question of how inclusive the programming and exhibition designs are with regard to disability. This past year there have been some small victories stemming from initiatives put in place by my former colleagues in Museum Education. In order to put change in place, there needs to be action steps and often a source of funding for implementing change. For example, one of the museum educators approached the Office of Development about applying for a grant within the healthcare industry to potentially fund a series of disability-focused educational programming. Development steered him toward Cigna, the healthcare provider for Art Institute employees, and a grant proposal was created and later accepted.

Figure 6: Noel King leading an ASL Tour at the Art Institute

With the funds from this grant, the Art Institute was able to implement ASL tours, which were initiated by Noel King, a deaf graduate student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. King’s background is in art therapy, but she has extensive training in giving ASL museum tours from her time working at the National Gallery in Washington D.C., and a desire to put something similar in place at the Art Institute. Initially created as a bit of an experiment, these programs soon gained momentum, partially due to the use of social media, but in large part due to the community want for a program like this (Figure 6). I had the pleasure of attending one of the ASL tours and enjoyed the learning process, the enriching dialogue, and the fact that some 65 people joined the tour – a large number for a touring group regardless of the language it was conducted in.

What had me the most excited was that this was the only tour offered on Thursday evening, the night the museum is free to the public. My takeaway from this observation is that with the ASL tour being the only tour that evening, meant that it was no different from the general guided tours, but rather a regular tour communicated in a different language. Though the museum is by no means done with the work toward making a wholly inclusive space, by making the ASL tour the only tour for the evening, the question of difference and the label of “other” was removed for me – disability was beautifully and seamlessly woven into the regular programming of the institution. 

Other programs in the works included the use of captioning in a Member lecture on Degas this summer, something the museum has yet to try. And a longer term goal on the wish list of the educators is to create a “style guide” for how to speak to audiences with disability, how to speak about audiences with disability, and how to incorporate disability in the general exhibition programming – not only in terms of content but also in exhibition design, lighting, and labeling methods. Potentially modeled after a preexisting guide created by the Steppenwolf Theatre, this manual would ideally shift the attitudes of museum workers across the spectrum of departments, and force a turn in the operations of the museum to create a more fully inclusive and welcome space.[1] Though it is interesting that the Art Institute did not participate in the ADA 25 Chicago initiative, it is clear that by creating smaller-scale internal changes one department at a time, a shift will begin to occur. Judging by the high attendance of individuals with and without hearing impairment on the ASL tour I attended, the audience exists and is interested. There is an appetite for this kind of a museum, and if we build it (ADA compliant), they will come.


Author Unknown. “Accessibility.” The Art Institute of Chicago. Date Unknown. Web. 3 March 2015.

Author Unknown. “Advanced Search: Deaf.” The Oakland Museum, CA. Date Unknown. Web. 24 April 2015.

Author Unknown. “Discoveries: Workshops for Visitors with Developmental and Learning Disabilities and Those on the Autism Spectrum.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Spring-Summer 2015. PDF.

Author Unknown. “For Visitors Who Are Blind or Partially Sighted.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Date Unknown. Web. 27 April 2015.

Author Unknown. “For Visitors with Hearing Loss.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Date Unknown. Web. 27 April 2015.

Author Unknown. “Road Scholars.” The Art Institute of Chicago. Date Unknown. Web. 25 April 2015.

Author Unknown. “The ADA and City Governments: Common Problems.” U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section. October 10, 2008. Web. 19 April 2015.

Author Unknown. “The Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York, NY.” The Accessible Museum: Model Programs of Accessibility for Disabled and Older People. The American Association of Museums. 1992. Print. (pg. 106).

Author Unknown. “The Oakland Museum: Oakland, California.” The Accessible Museum: Model Programs of Accessibility for Disabled and Older People. The American Association of Museums. 1992. Print.

Author Unknown. “Programs in Sign Language and with Sign Language Interpretation.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Date Unknown. Web. 27 April 2015.

Author Unknown. “Programs for Visitors with Disabilities.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Date Unknown. Web. 27 April 2015.

Brophy, Sarah and Janice Hladki. “Cripping the Museum: Disability, Pedagogy, and Video Art.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, 8.3. 2014. PDF

Burris, Jennifer. “Park McArthur.” BOMB – Artists in Conversation. February 19, 2014. Web 4 April 2015.

Cascone, Sarah. “Robots Give Virtual Tours of the de Young Museum.” Art Net News. March 2, 2015. Web 4 April 2015.

Duncan, Carol. “From the Princely Gallery to the Public Art Museum: The Louvre Museum and the National Gallery, London.” In Representing the Nation: A Reader: Histories, Heritage and Museums. Eds. David Boswell and Jessica Evans. London: Routledge, 1999. PDF.

Handa, Kozue, Hitoshi Dairoku, and Yoshiko Toriyama. “Investigation of Priority Needs in Terms of Museum Service Accessibility for Visually Impaired Visitors.” The British Journal of Visual Impairment. 2010. PDF (pg. 223)

Hansen, Tone. “Introduction: What Is to Be (Re)Staged?.” (Re)Staging the Art Museum. Ed. Tone Hansen. Revolver Publishing. 2011. 9-18. Print.

Harris, Neil. “Museums: The Hidden Agenda,” in Cultural Excursions. Chicago:
The University of Chicago Press, 1990.

King, Lyndel and Janet Marstine. “The University Museum and Gallery: A Site for Institutional Critique and a Focus of the Curriculum.” New Museum Theory and Practice: An Introduction. By Janet Marstine. John Wiley & Sons, 2008. 266-291. E-book edition.

Lind, Maria. “Restaging the Institution.” (Re)Staging the Art Museum. Ed. Tone Hansen. Revolver Publishing. 2011. 19-33. Print.

Linsey, Eleanor and Jonathon P. Bowen, Kirsten Hearn, and Maria Zedda. “Museums and Technology: Being Inclusive Helps Accessibility for All.” Curator: The Museum Journal. Volume 56, No. 3. July 2013. PDF

Merritt, Elizabeth E. “Wearable Tech: when ‘bring your own device’ means shirt and shoes*.” TrendsWatch 2015. 2015. PDF

Merritt, Elizabeth E. “Synesthesia: Multisensory Experiences for a Multisensory World.” TrendsWatch 2014. 2014. PDF

Minder, Raphael. “At Museo del Prado, Blind Visitors Can Touch Masterpieces.” The New York Times. March 6, 2015. Web 4 April 2015.

Sandell, Richard and Jocelyn Dodd. “Activist Practice.” Re-Presenting Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum. 2010. 3-22. Print.

Werb, Shari Rothstein and Tari Hartman Squire. “Transforming Practice: Disability Perspectives and the Museum. Re-Presenting Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum. 2010

[1] This section reflects a conversation another MUSE Student and I had with two museum educators at the Art Institute on April 30, 2015. We candidly spoke about the challenges of changing the institutional outlook on disability, some of the programs that are working, the issue of attaining funding for programs like the ones they are exploring, and much of the work that needs to be done to make the Art Institute a more accessible space.

Capstone Project Check-In: 9/11/15

As promised, I'm beginning a new series detailing my thoughts and updates for my MUSE Capstone project progress. But first, a little bit of background. A requirement of the MUSE Program at UIC is to either conduct thesis research or project-based research, culminating in a large paper or a well-thought-out project plan. I decided last spring that I would embark upon the project of researching, writing, and potentially recording a full-length audio descriptive guide for visitors with low vision, vision impairment, and blindness as my project. I spent the summer letting the idea ferment (so much fermentation), and put together a preliminary project plan, which I am going to be revising and refining as I learn more about this area of accessible programming. But one incredible thing that was so unbelievably encouraging happened last night, which I thought I'd share here.

First of all, everything has the potential for meaning to me. Everything can be a sign, if read that way. And last night I was given the mother of all signs! I volunteered to work the ReelAbilities Film Festival - a five-day event screening feature length and short films around the topic of disability. It's a mix of documentary and drama, depicting a wide range of disability including but not limited to: facial irregularities, non-verbal autism, wheelchair users and mobility impairment, blindness, and body enhancement through prosthesis. It's completely free, and in line with the my Disability in Film class, so how could I miss it? I showed up for my volunteer shift at Wretchers and Jabbers, and the first person I was introduced to was Victor. I was told by my project advisor (back in May), that I needed to track down Victor. That Victor is "the audio description guy" in Chicago. That he would be the person to talk to about my ideas, about implementing one level of access in cultural space. To walk in and meet Victor was a sign. We chatted for 20 minutes about his work, doing audio description for blind film and theatre patrons, joking about the barriers that institutions put up, and about how simple it is to just offer the service. It's not that expensive he says, but makes a world of difference to someone who's unable to see. I told him I'd like to interview him for my project, and he seemed completely open to it! This is completely fantastic news for me!

In other news I'm more than halfway done with my IRB certification. In short, before I can truly delve into my research, I need to become IRB certified, which means that I understand the meaning of research, that I understand what defines research with humans, and that I comprehend the balance of risk to benefits. It's a process that was put in place in the 1970s in response to errors in judgment on the part of several (too many to name) research projects that put human populations at risk. My place in all of this, you might be wondering, is that it's a requirement of the university regardless of my research content. I need to read all of the material provided on research, human subjects, consent, beneficence, risk/benefit ratios, and take quizzes on everything I read to prove my understanding.  It's a time-consuming process, as there are 17 modules to read and quiz through, each taking anywhere from 20-45 minutes to read. Once I finish, I can fill of my application for approval by the board, and really delve into my work. More on that soon.

Next steps:
  • Arrange another meeting with my advisor
  • Reach out to Liz, the other student on campus interested in audio description
  • 8 more IRB modules/quizzes
  • Apply for IRB exemption
  • Build bibliography related to museum access for visitors with vision impairment and blindness
  • Attain Victor's contact information
  • Go on some audio tours around the city!

10 September 2015

Access In Museums: A Research Project in 6 Parts (Part 5)


Beyond looking at what museums have done in the past and present moment, it is crucial to look toward the future of access in museums. The 2014 TrendsWatch produced by the Center for the Future of Museums points to new technologies being developed for the explicit purpose of synesthesia, or multisensory museum experiences senses other than sight. Digital scent technologies will soon be entering the market in the form of scents that will be transportable using texting and Bluetooth technology, as well as the creation of the Smell Screen, an LCD screen that releases a scent to match the image it is showing.[1] Though it is early in the development phase, researchers at the University of Singapore are currently working on a device called the “digital lollipop” to simulate taste.[2] The 2015 TrendsWatch is pointing to wearable technologies entering museum spaces as a prosthetic attachment to the bodies of visitors. Though this is nothing new when we think of disability, one thought is that as wearable tech becomes more ubiquitous, it may actually destigmatize the use of assistive devices.[3] Googleglass has also been used to expand field of vision for people with vision impairment, and act as a hands-free mediated resource through voice activation. While wearable tech might not be for everyone, and it might not fit smoothly with all disability, it is a trend to look out for in both the day-to-day and the museum space.

Figure 4: The de Young Museum’s Virtually Touring Robot (Video Still Via CBS)
Robotics is also finding its way into the museum. Earlier in 2015, the De Young Museum in San Francisco, California unveiled a new program in which a robot operated remotely will walk visitors who aren’t in the museum on a virtual gallery tour (figure 4). What’s particularly exciting about this robot is that it has a video screen that connects to the webcam of the virtual visitor, offering a real-time engagement tool for the person virtually wandering the galleries.[4] In-person visitors can potentially strike up conversations with the virtual visitor about the works they are simultaneously viewing. These robots were first discussed as a possible museum-tool by Henry Evans, a former Silicon Valley executive who became disabled after suffering a stroke in 2002, and are now fully operational for use in the museum. The program has been deemed successful thus far, and the de Young is hoping to procure more robots for use by visitors who are unable to visit the museum due to a variety of reasons, including disability, financial, and location-based based obstacles. 

Figure 5: Touchable Replica of the Mona Lisa (la Joconde) at the Museo del Prado in Madrid (image via the New York Times)
Another highly discussed museum trend is the introduction of three-dimensional touchable painting reproductions created for the Touching the Prado exhibition, which opened in January of this year (figure 5). For this exhibition, the Prado commissioned the creation of reproductions of six collection favorites, including a copy of the Mona Lisa (made as a study by one of da Vinci’s pupils), and paintings by Goya, Correggio, El Greco, van der Hamen, and Velázquez.[5] This collection of paintings was produced at a studio in Bilbao, Spain, and each reproduction was custom-made using a relief printing technique developed by Estudios Durero, and the cost of $6,680 per painting.[6] These new paintings were created with the specific intent that they would be used by blind and vision impaired visitors as a new way to interact with the predominantly visual collection. While there are still some kinks to work out, particularly with distinguishing the difference between the texture of hair and textiles, this exhibition has been deemed incredibly successful for both sighted and non-sighted visitors, and might predict a turn toward touchable engagement in future museum practice.

[1] Merritt, Elizabeth E. “Synesthesia: Multisensory Experiences for a Multisensory World.” TrendsWatch 2014. 2014. PDF (pg. 19)
[2] Merritt, Elizabeth E. “Synesthesia: Multisensory Experiences for a Multisensory World.” (pg. 19)
[3] Merritt, Elizabeth E. “Wearable Tech: when ‘bring your own device’ means shirt and shoes*.” TrendsWatch 2015. 2015. PDF (pg. 44)
[4] Cascone, Sarah. “Robots Give Virtual Tours of the de Young Museum.” Art Net News. March 2, 2015. Web 4 April 2015.
[5] Minder, Raphael. “At Museo del Prado, Blind Visitors Can Touch Masterpieces.” The New York Times. March 6, 2015. Web 4 April 2015.
[6] Minder, Raphael. “At Museo del Prado, Blind Visitors Can Touch Masterpieces.”