Tokyo: In an effort to promote inclusivity and expose their collections to as wide an audience as possible, art museums in Japan are improving accessibility by offering special tours for handicapped visitors and onsite baby-sitting services.
At a special session held in early September at the Yokohama Museum of Art, nine men and women with a range of visual impairment toured the exhibits accompanied by volunteer guides.
"This is the face and here are the eyes. It's a rather flat face," a volunteer said as he guided the hands of a visually impaired male participant over a bronze sculpture depicting a human head. Touching the slim and elongated head, the man said with a smile on his face, "It's shaped like a loaf of bread.”
Also among the participants was Hitoshi Nakamura, 81, who lost his eyesight over 10 years ago. During the tour, he listened to the guide's verbal description of an abstract statue and pictured in his mind a woman sending a man off to the battlefield.
"Even if it's not entirely the same as what's seen by people who can see, I was able to imagine the concrete figures relying on the verbal descriptions," Nakamura said.
Since the fiscal year starting April 2012, the Yokohama museum has been regularly holding special sessions during which visually impaired visitors and those not handicapped tour the exhibits in pairs.
Major exhibits in the museum are accompanied by descriptive guide sheets with information such as the size and colors used, that helps the visually impaired imagine how the artwork looks.
"Even sighted persons can experience new things when they try to observe the exhibits in order to describe the details (to the visually impaired)," said Satomi Okazaki, a staff member at the museum in charge of organizing the special tours.