Special Needs Tours

Jean Griffiths, Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art & the University of Toronto Art Centre, Canada - Facilitator
Mary Ann Boesel, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH
Bonnie R. Daly, San Diego Mingei International Museum, San Diego, CA
Debbie Doyle, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Jessica Duarte, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada
Patty Haluska, Sid Richardson Museum, Ft. Worth, TX
Ingrid Jacobus, The Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, FL
Lynn Sudderth, Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, AR
Deanna Storm, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, OK
Beth Vanderkin, North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, NC

 

I. Objectives of Round Table Discussion:

  • A sharing of ideas
  • Developing strategies

 

II. Partial Sight Loss:

  • Docents use curator approved designated objects for touch.
    • Special needs visitors (and in some cases, their partners) touch with their bare hands or gloves, depending on what has been determined by the museum.
    • Docents use descriptive words
    • Vision loss visitor describes object and passes it to others for their descriptions.
  • On a non-object touching tour participants are encouraged by a docent to explore in other ways.
    • A docent can describe an object like “The Thinker” while others try to pose.
    • Docents can bring materials that are similar to things in the museum that cannot be touched, e.g. wood or fabric.
  • Arrangements
    • One docent or chaperone per visually impaired person
    • This is a scheduled/requested tour

 

III. Special “Access Day” Tours:

  • Tours by appointment on a day the museum is closed
    • No time limitations are set
    • Allows for extra space and movement for the special needs guest
  • Tours led by “access core” trained docents
    • Docents are specially trained for specific tours (e.g. Autism, visually impaired)
    • Training sessions led by former special education teachers or specially trained educators from the community are brought in to train Access Docents

 

IV. Other Notes:

  • With school tours, special needs are identified and a docent is paired with the student.
  • Before a scheduled tour, a docent contacts the special needs visitor or their companion to gain more individualized information that could aid them on the tour.
  • Group size for special needs visitors on tours is generally 4-6 people.

 

V. At the Art Gallery of Ontario: (Many programs are in place for special needs guests at the AGO.)

  • Special programs for vision and hearing loss, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and autism
  • Visually Impaired Tours
  • Basic Tour Information:
    • Developed during the past couple years
    • Two gallery guides (docents) travel as a team with the group of visitors
    • Maximum group size – 10, reserved in advance
    • All age groups and open to companion as well
    • Open spots are available to the public
    • Tours are scheduled to last 2 hours
    • Tours are first Sunday and Thursday of every month
    • Tours have been developed with help from those in the visually impaired community and much wisdom has been gained from their input
  • Tour Description:
    • Objective: to have a pleasant “outing”/art experience
    • Focused theme
    • Discussion is encouraged
    • Not to be a docent monologue
    • Everyone on the tour is allowed to touch objects with gloves on
    • Multi-sensory tour
      • Smell: utilize perfume bottles filled with scent
      • Touch: textiles (e.g. a piece of carpet to exemplify carpet in a painting); tactile reproductions of the painting that can be touched; sculptures that can be touched with gloves on
      • Maquettes: Different layers of wood to exemplify the process painters use (e.g. layering paint in a painting/ preparation of painting and glazing a canvas
      • Hearing: music played to accompany the painting described or to set a mood and ask the listener to explain what mood they felt
      • Docents must keep using descriptive language as some may have lost their sense of touch
      • 45 minutes usually spent “viewing” a painting (for all age levels) but let the group decide the pacin
      • Remember that some people have never seen color. Allow time to talk about color and what it means to them.
  • Studio Activities:
    • Paintings created in a certain style
    • This is the first summer that this program has been developed and used.
  • Other Items:
    • Tours for schizophrenics are led by a paid docent
    • Docents and volunteers have key roles in developing these “tool boxes” with samples (e.g. Maharajah Exhibition: docents brought in jewels and jewelry)

 

VI. Hearing Loss:

  • Some museums use sign language for hearing loss.
    • Challenging because visitors cannot focus on two things, the signer and the object, at the same time.
    • Must allow plenty of time for these tours.
    • Recommended to get in touch with the hearing impaired community in your area to see what approach they would recommend.
    • Hearing impaired normally do not consider themselves special needs but another language community

 

VI. Autism Spectrum Disorders:

  • The AGO has developed Autism Tour Kits that parents or caregivers can pick up at the museum to self-guide an autistic individual through the museum. Items included may be things to touch, etc.
  • Many autistic children are with their peers when they come to the museum for a tour with their school group.
  • Although they are with a “regular” class, they still may have special needs while visiting the museum and may have a different way of expressing themselves.
  • Autistic children may have special situations that make being on a standard school tour more difficult for them.
  • If at all possible, contact the teacher, or allow them to have a way to indicate any special needs in their classroom when they book the tour. This will allow the docent to prepare in advance.
  • Many teachers have many students with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) in their classrooms and are often so adept as making adjustments in the classroom they may need prompting to remember that outside the classroom special arrangements can be made as well.
  • Encourage teachers to share with you the special needs listed on IEPs in order to better plan the tour. Many times, simple adjustments can be made that will improve the autistic child’s enjoyment of the tour. (e.g. being aware of loud noises, crowded spaces, location of the child in relationship to the docent)
  • Some museums are beginning to include autistic individuals and families with autistic children on their Access Days.

 

VII. ADHD/ADD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Attention Deficit Disorder)

  • To accommodate ADHD children, groups may need to move faster through the museum.
  • Docent interpretation may need to be kept brief.
  • More discussion time may be necessary than a standard tour.
  • Doing a stretching or hopping in place exercise (or some other movement activity) before sitting down for a couple minutes may help the students to focus.
  • Docents should be aware of the surroundings if they are trying to keep the students’ attention. Be cognizant of other distractions around the immediate area (e.g. videos, noises, high traffic)
  • As with the autistic visitors:
    • If at all possible, contact the teacher, or allow them to have a way to indicate any special needs in their classroom when they book the tour. This will allow the docent to prepare in advance.
    • Many teachers have many students with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) in their classrooms and are often so adept as making adjustments in the classroom they may need prompting to remember that outside the classroom special arrangements can be made as well.
    • Encourage teachers to share with you the special needs listed on IEPs in order to better plan the tour. Many times, simple adjustments can be made that will improve the ADHD/ADD child’s enjoyment of the tour.

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