Since I go to college right outside of Washington, DC, I set a goal with my friends to vsiit all of the Smithsonian museums. While I have been to many of the museums multiple times, I had never been to the National Museum of the American Indian. Luckily, my friend and I got to go one Friday afternoon, and it was an incredible educational experience that was accessible for the visually impaired. Here is my review of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, along with an accessibility guide for the visually impaired.
There are several metro stops near the National Museum of the American Indian, but all of them require a bit of walking. My friend and I ended up passing the US Capitol on our ten minute walk from the metro, and got mildly lost trying to find the entrance to the museum. It took us about fifteen minutes to get to the museum after getting off the metro train. Read more about the metro trains and their features for riders with vision impairments here.
The museum exhibits are spread out, with one or two large exhibits on each floor. My friend and I traveled between the floors using the elevator and found it easy to access everything. Exhibits have wide walkways and are easy to walk around. I rarely found myself bumping into items, which was a pleasant surprise. Read more about visiting museums with low vision here.
When we went in the afternoon, the museum was quiet and not overwhelming at all, even though there were school groups visiting. Some exhibits did have loud noises like thunder and banging drums, though these areas were easy to avoid if needed- it helps that the exhibits are a bit spread out. I also didn’t notice any flashing lights, with the exception of a lightning flash in a video. Speaking of field trips, read more about going on field trips with vision impairments here.
There were several interactive touchscreen displays around the National Museum of the American Indian, and while many of them incorporated small text and hard-to-read information, there were others that showed high-quality images of the different artifacts on display. This was especially helpful for viewing items inside glass cases, and I appreciated that I could magnify the images and see more intricate details. Read more about the importance of high resolution images here.
Using Seeing AI
I had trouble reading some of the exhibit signs, and I didn’t want to make my friend read every single line to me. I brought my iPad to the museum and connected to their free wifi. I then started to use the app Seeing AI, specifically the text feature, holding up my iPad camera to the signs and having the text read to me. Read more about using Seeing AI here.
One of the exhibits we went through about the Incans recommended that users download the app STQRY to enhance their experience. I immediately downloaded it on my Android phone, selected the option for the National Museum of the American Indian, and found full text descriptions of the exhibit in English and Spanish. I used my screen reader to navigate the app and was able to read through all of the content. I hope that the museum adds more exhibits to the app. Download STQRY for iOS on the App Store here and download it for Android on the Google Play store here.
With the Google search app on my phone, I used camera function to take pictures of items and learn more about them. The image was not stored in my phone, but I could also upload images from my gallery to learn more about them. One cool example is I took a picture of a vase and then I was recommended an article about how the vase was made.
A note on food
There isn’t much food in the area surrounding the museum, so my friend and I ate at the cafeteria in the museum, which features food items from different Indian cultures. Because the menu rotates, it’s hard to find an online copy of what’s available, so my friend ended up reading everything to me. We were both very satisfied with our meals though, and would definitely recommend visiting the cafeteria. Read more about how people with vision impairments go to restaurants here.
Because my friend and I are from Virginia, our favorite exhibits were the ones on Matoaka (also known as Pocahontas) and Jamestown. However, the Incan exhibit is a close second because the STQRY app really helped bring the exhibit to life for me and the tactile part of the exhibit, which featured alpaca fur and a light up rain display, was lots of fun too. Read more about creating tactile images here.
My friend and I really enjoyed our trip to the National Museum of the American Indian, and ended up learning a lot about Native Americans and their culture, more than we had ever learned in a history class. I highly recommend this museum to people that are interested in history, learning about other cultures, or who are looking for a unique way to spend an afternoon.