Ready to Launch: Assistive Technology Helps People with Visual Impairment Enjoy Public Places in a New Way

A photo of a smartphone in the LaunchGuide location, with a sign reading "BRAILLE TRAIL START" pointing to the phone in the wire guides and a caption on the photo that reads "[smartphone:] Welcome to the Dennis Braille Trail"

LaunchGuide in action at the Dennis Braille Trail

Post by Brian Klotz

If you’ve been to a number of locations in Massachusetts, including the Dennis Braille Trail in Dennis, MA, you may have noticed something new: a device with a QR code that can be read by your smartphone. Called LaunchGuide, this new device was created to help people with visual impairment enjoy public places with content that not only helps them navigate, but adds to the experience, and it is yet another example of the creative ways assistive technology is becoming more prevalent.

Designed by an assistive technology company called COMMplements (the brand name of products of Peacock Communications), LaunchGuide can be used by anyone with an Internet-connected device capable of reading a QR code. Each LaunchGuide location is equipped with a wire guide that helps the user position their smartphone so it can read the code. This takes them to a webpage with content unique to that location – for example, information about the exhibits in a museum or the stops along a trail, which the user can have read to them using text-to-speech as they explore.

An example of a QR code

An example of a QR code

By housing content on a webpage, users can select how and in what order they experience it, as opposed to a linear audio tour. Continue reading

Advertisements

Check out the MFA’s A Feeling for Form Access Program

Wearing a white glove, Charles Tatum touches some of the artwork at the MFA's Feeling for Form Access Program.

Wearing a white glove, Charles Tatum touches some of the artwork at the MFA’s Feeling for Form Access Program.

When MABVI staff members call our support group members to ask them if they would like to go look at works of art, we are often met with surprise. “Honey, you know I can’t see, right?”

Contrary to popular belief, it is actually easy for the blind and visually impaired community to enjoy a tour at the Museum of Fine Arts. A Feeling for Form is a program that offers a tactile exploration of select sculpture and furniture to visitors who are blind or visually impaired. For works that cannot be handled, there are verbal descriptions, tactile diagrams, and replica objects to help bring the art to life. The tours are which are led by trained museum volunteers or staff.

“I think it’s great that visually impaired and blind people can actually go to a museum and enjoy it,” says Barbara Duford, the coordinator of MABVI’s Medford and Somerville-Cambridge Low Vision Support Groups. “You never thought that would be possible years ago.”

These tours are available for a variety of events, including the Inspiration of Helen Keller tours and the Art in Bloom 2014 celebration on April 25.

The Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired partners with the MFA to schedule several tours a year for low vision support group members. When Duford went a few years ago, it was the first time she had ever been to the MFA. She has returned multiple times since then.

“I think it’s fascinating when they give you gloves and you can feel the different facets of the sculptures,” she says. “They have someone who describes the artwork and I get levels of fine detail that I probably wouldn’t have ever seen. It’s quite fascinating.”

Members of the Sharon-Stouton Low Vision Support Group attend a Feeling for Form tour at the Museum of Fine Arts. One support group member (left) is wearing gloves to touch select sculptures.

Members of the Sharon-Stouton Low Vision Support Group attend a Feeling for Form tour at the Museum of Fine Arts. One support group member (left) is wearing gloves to touch select sculptures.

Another benefit of the tour is its pace, Duford says. She recalls that participants didn’t feel rushed and felt welcomed by the volunteers. “They do it at a pace where an older person could probably keep up with them, they seem very patient with people,” Duford says.

Ruth Adjorlolo, former coordinator of the Sharon/Stoughton Support Group, has also attended several Feeling for Form tours. As a painter, Adjorlolo says she appreciates people getting to connect with art in new ways.

“I’m always happy if people can appreciate what an artist is trying to demonstrate,” Adjorlolo says. “A painting can be like poetry, so they can get the feeling in the atmosphere…they can sort of appreciate the perspectives or play of light or contrast.” Adjorlolo said the MFA tour was one of several ways support members could come together and experience something new. “They look forward to getting out,” Adjorlolo said. “That encourages them to exchange ideas.”

A Feeling for Form tours are open to any visually impaired person. They can be scheduled on an individual basis or try out the info series, available the first Sunday of most months at 10:30 am. There is no fee for Admission or for the tour but pre-registration is required through the Access Department at the MFA. There are also other audio and tactile materials available for low vision visitors. Contact Valarie Burrows at 617-369-3302 or Hannah Goodwin at 617-369-3189 for more information. You can also send an email to access@mfa.org.

Upcoming events
The MFA offers more events and accommodations throughout the spring. See the details below.

Inspiration of Helen Keller Tours
This tour revisits Helen Keller’s experience from when she visited the MFA and includes a touch tour of the collection of Art of the Ancient world wit ha focus on Roman art. Tours can be requested whenever the museum is open, but registration is required. Please schedule the tour 10 days in advance. For more information or to register, email vburrows@mfa.org.

Art in Bloom 2014
Guided tours are available for the annual celebration of art and flowers for Friday, April 25. Pre-registration is required and attendance is limited. For more information or to register email vburrows@mfa.org.

For any visit, the MFA has an MFA Guide portable touch screen player, tactile and Braille materials and a large print map. Each of those items are available at the Sharf Visitor Center.

If you’re interested in hearing about news and additional upcoming events from the MFA, email access@mfa.org and join our distribution list.