Saturday, October 14, 2006

Special guided tour for the visually impaired is offered by village

A special tour for people with impaired vision will be offered at Upper Canada Village on Saturday afternoon, October 14.

This tactile tour centres on the village's current costume exhibit, "Ghosts of Fashion Past," at Crysler Hall. The 19th-century costumes come from the collection of Diane Gallinger, of Jordan Heritage Resources.

Gallinger has worked with Upper Canada Village (UCV) for the past two years, helping to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. It was her idea to create a tactile tour to make the museum experience more rewarding for people with vision loss, said UCV staff member Gabriele Thomas.

The tour begins with the costume exhibit, where participants can get the general feel of the costumes while wearing gloves. Gallinger worked with Tactile Vision Inc., of Oakville, to produce raised tactile diagrams of the heritage gowns on display, as well as a raised floor plan diagram of Crysler Hall, to enhance the experience.

During the tour, participants have the chance to learn about fashions and the role of the village dressmaker at the Dressmaker's House and then handle period textiles (silks, velvets and so on) and try on various reproduction costume items in the costume department, all at UCV.

In preparation for the tours, which she leads, Gallinger offered training sessions to staff and interpreters, helping those who would be part of the tour to understand how to present the material to people who can't see well or at all. To enhance this presentation, she sought the assistance of someone in the area with visual impairment.

Through the grapevine she learned of Brockville's Debbie Warren, who lives with severe vision loss. Warren, a longtime volunteer with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and a former chairman of the CNIB's Kingston District board, agreed to attend the sessions and offer comments from a visually impaired person's point of view.

For instance, when Gallinger would explain that staff should ask a blind person if it's all right to take his or her hand to guide it to an object, Warren expanded on that so the interpreters could understand why it's best not to just grab a person's hand.

"Diane is a passionate, down-to-earth lady with a commitment to make museums accessible," said Warren in a telephone interview this week. "In those training sessions, I basically validated what Diane was saying, and expressed the need for museums to be inclusive."

Warren said it's important for visually impaired people to know there are museum settings where they can experience what sighted people do.

"Upper Canada Village is the perfect place. A visually impaired person can drink in the fragrances, hear the horses and listen to the honking geese overhead. They can experience the tranquility and the excitement of this country place, if that makes sense," Warren said.

Gallinger also told staff not to shy away from talking about the colour of items, because often blind people have formed an association with certain colours and knowing the colour of something helps them visualize it better. For example, a visually impaired woman on the first tour, in late September, equated the smell and taste of licorice with the colour black.

Thomas said that first tactile tour went very well.

"We will definitely continue these tours, with different themes. Perhaps there could be one on tools. We're not sure exactly where it's going," she said.

To reserve a space on Saturday's tour, call Thomas at 613-543-3704, ext. 2234. The tour runs from 1 to 4 p.m. and costs $9 per person (with one support giver admitted free of charge). Service dogs are welcome. Crysler Hall is not wheelchair accessible, and some walking is required between buildings; terrain includes stairs, gravel paths and wooden sidewalks. Refreshment facilities are on site.


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