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Making art accessible

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Picture this: Hannah is a bright, inquisitive 8 year old with limited vision. She can’t wait to explore the world around her, especially now that spring is here and summer’s on the way. This little girl has a creative spirit and she and her best friend, Hector — who is blind — share a true love of art. Somehow, they find a way to draw and paint “masterpieces” together.

One day, Hannah’s parents surprised her with a cool adventure. They invited Hector, 7, and his 14-year-old sister (with unimpaired vision) to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The kids were super excited, since it was their first visit, and because they had heard about a special program for children who are blind or have low vision. They couldn’t wait to find out what it was all about.

When everyone got there, they were thrilled to discover that the museum’s unique Picture This! family program offered a lot of cool things to do, see, and hear. Not only was it fun, but it also turned out to be an awesome learning experience centered around art, and it took place in an interactive workshop environment where kids like Hannah and Hector could actually touch original artworks.

Also, the entire family took part in an interesting tour; teaching artists provided detailed descriptions and other multisensory experiences. Hannah and her peeps were already looking forward to their next artistic adventure.

The Met’s special programs create a welcoming environment for families and young art lovers, ages 5 to 17, who can’t seem to get enough of the museum’s exceptional offerings.

Rebecca McGinnis, senior museum educator, oversees Access and Community Programs at the Met, including the Picture This! program. She described an innovative children’s book that pairs works of art from the museum’s collection with raised line drawings and Braille, “Art and the Alphabet: A Tactile Experience.” Published in 2003, it demonstrates to parents and teachers how art can still be enjoyed by children with visual disabilities.

“Children and families can explore art at the Met through a variety of programs, and children of all abilities are welcome to participate in any program. We aim to make all programs accessible and inclusive through multisensory activities and a flexible approach to engaging children with various learning needs and styles,” McGinnis explained. “Picture This! family programs support multiple areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum, including orientation and mobility, social skills, independent living skills, recreation and leisure skills, and sensory efficiency skills.”

Through Picture This! workshops, kids and teens have access to the Met’s collections, exhibitions, buildings, programs, and services and even have choices in how, when, and where they experience art. While expressing themselves and exploring ideas through art, they can also make deep social connections.

A wide range of programming and accommodations to make the museum and its collections accessible to visitors with disabilities are offered: www.metmuseum.org/events/programs/programs-for-visitors-with-disabilities.

For children and adults with developmental and learning disabilities and those on the autism spectrum, the Met’s Discoveries program provides a supportive environment that offers many ways of interacting with art, ensuring smooth access for visitors of all ages.

These participants explore an exhibition, collection area, or cross-cultural theme. After discovering works in the galleries through multimodal experiences like sketching, posing, and discussion, they create art inspired by what they have seen. Discoveries workshops actively include parents and siblings (free; reservations required).

Did you know that the Met has a long history of programs that make art accessible to people who are blind or partially sighted? Surprisingly, there were programs for children with visual impairments back in 1913! And in 2014, the Met received the American Foundation for the Blind’s Access Award, affirming that “the Museum has opened the world of art to those with visual impairments.”

Picture This! takes place every other month. Discoveries programs are offered once a month.

Seizing an opportunity to create meaningful family experiences, where everyone is engaged and stimulated, is what makes regular visits to the Met truly worthwhile.

“We encourage students with disabilities to apply for the museum’s High School Internship Program. We partner with City Access New York and the NYS Commission for the Blind to offer internships for high school students who are blind or have low vision,” said McGinnis. (For details: www.metmuseum.org/research/internships-and-fellowships/internships/high-school).

Next Picture This! program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art [1000 Fifth Ave. at E. 82nd Street on the Upper East Side, (212) 535–7710, www.metmuseum.org/events/programs/family-programs/picture-this-programs-for-families] is “Color and the Senses” on May 31, 2–3:30 pm. The next Discoveries program, also “Color and the Senses,” is May 10, 2–3:30 pm. Free, reservations required.

Updated 4:56 pm, July 9, 2018
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