It’s always fun to explore museums, landmarks, and national parks in real life, though a growing number of places are now supporting virtual tours and virtual field trips so that people can visit these amazing places no matter where they are in the world. It’s even more exciting when these places offer accessible virtual field trips and tours for guests who are blind or that have low vision. Today, I will be sharing my experience going on a virtual tour of the Rijksmuseum with the help of image descriptions and audio descriptions as a person with low vision.
What is the Rijksmuseum?
Rijksmuseum, pronounced in English as Rikes-museum, is a Dutch national art museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands that has over one million objects spanning from the years 1200 to 2000. Some of the most well-known artists on display in the museum include Rembrandt Van Rijn (who is believed to have had a visual impairment in the form of stereoblindness), Johannes Vermeer, and Frans Hals.
Visiting exhibits on Google Arts and Culture
Many of the exhibits in the Rijksmuseum are available on the Google Arts and Culture website and app, which is accessible with large print and screen magnification and partially accessible with screen readers (image alt text is unavailable). Featured exhibits at the Rijksmuseum that are on the Google Arts and Culture app and website include 11 online exhibits and over 164,000 items.
- Rijksmueum on Google Arts and Culture
- Google Arts and Culture app for iOS and iPad OS
- Google Arts and Culture app for Android
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Visiting exhibits on Rijkstudio
Rijkstudio is a section of the Rijksmuseum website that allows users to view and download high resolution images of objects in the collection, as well as read object descriptions in large print, with screen magnification, or with a screen reader. Users can also listen to audio description when available by clicking on the “listen to audio clip” option underneath the “download” button. For users that want extended descriptions, I recommend using a visual interpreting service such as Aira, BeSpecular, or Be My Eyes to get descriptions from a sighted person of what the art or object looks like.
- Rijkstudio link
- Aira For Low Vision Review
- BeSpecular App Review For Visually Impaired Users
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- Be My Eyes App Review
- Tips For Be My Eyes Volunteers From A Vision Impaired User
Accessing audio description and image descriptions on Rijksmusueum app
The free Rijksmuseum app features an audio tour of the museum that can be accessed when users select the option that indicates that they are in the museum. Using this option, I was able to access several different audio tours that provided descriptions of exhibits and objects, though I needed to have another screen or device with Google Arts and Culture or Rijkstudio open in order to be able to listen to the audio tour within the app and look at objects at the same time. Users can also choose to input the exhibit/object number into the number screen to listen to audio, or search for a specific object in the collection using the search screen. The app works beautifully with large print, screen magnification, and screen readers for reading text, and is available for free on iOS, iPad OS, and Android.
Some examples of guided audio tours on the Rijksmuseum app include:
- Building/Architectural Highlights
- Colonial Past
- Highlights from 1900-1950
- Highlights from Special Collections
- Rijksmuseum app for iOS and iPad OS
- Rijksmuseum app for Android
- Visiting The Museum of Modern Art With Vision Impairment
- Visiting The Met With Visual Impairment
- Visiting the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum
Looking at art in AR
Within the Google Arts and Culture app, users can look at art and objects in augmented reality (AR), which means the object is superimposed on top of the user’s live camera view and the user can move around/zoom in and out to see the image in their environment. I personally prefer to use this feature on my iPad as having my phone close to my eyes can trigger my photosensitivity or vertigo, though it is still helpful as it allows me to view the object in high resolution and within the context of my environment.
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Finding high-resolution images of exhibit items
For users who are searching for high resolution images of exhibit items and do not want to use Rijkstudio (or if the image is not available on Rijkstudio), I recommend using an image search service such as Google Images and searching the exact object or artwork title in quotation marks (for example, “Reclining Lion Rembrandt”), and then using the HD search filter.
- How To Create High Resolution Images For Users With Low Vision
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Searching for extended image descriptions of exhibit items
For users looking for additional image descriptions of exhibit items or objects, I recommend running a web search for the object name and adding the word “description” to the end. While there may not be descriptions formally written for people who are blind or visually impaired, these descriptions can often provide more details about the materials used in the piece and other visual elements, though I found that the Rijkstudio descriptions were enough for me.
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Going on the the Rijksmuseum virtual tour was a super interesting experience, and I am grateful that the staff at the Rijksmuseum have provided free online resources to turn the experience into an accessible virtual field trip for people with visual impairments. I hope that others have as much fun exploring the Rijksmuseum virtual tour as I did!