When I visited St Louis in 2018, one of my favorite parts of the trip by far was going to visit the Gateway Arch Museum, also known as the St Louis Arch. When I was visiting, the Gateway Arch Museum had recently reopened to the public with an amazing new design that put an emphasis on principles of universal design, inclusive design, and improving the museum experience for guests with vision loss, inclusive of low vision and blind. Here are my favorite things I noticed while visiting the Gateway Arch Museum with low vision.
Large print and braille labels
When I arrived at the museum, I was prepared to use the Google Lens application that’s built into Google Assistant- that’s how I normally read text at museums on my Android phone. However, I was thrilled to find out that the exhibit labels were already in large font sizes (approximately 24-pt font), and there were also braille overlays on signs as well. I still used magnification aids to read some of the signs, but I appreciated that I didn’t have to balance a large print exhibit guide while carrying my blindness cane.
- How I Use Google Assistant While Traveling
- Tips For Visiting Art Museums With Low Vision
- Reading Handwriting With Assistive Technology
Tactile map of the St Louis Arch
Tactile models are an awesome tool for helping blind and low vision visitors get information about their surroundings and to form a mental model of what different items look like. The Gateway Arch museum has a tactile map of the grounds around the St Louis Arch, including plants, walking paths, surrounding buildings, and the arch itself.
Bronze statues that can be touched
Touching historical artifacts is not allowed, and it can be hard to visualize all of the details of an item on display while standing far away. The Gateway Arch Museum took this into consideration, and has several bronze statues that serve as scale models of items on display, which can be touched by anyone (and also sanitized easily). Instead of seeing the handcart on display with my eyes, I am able to feel the different details such as the wheel spokes, elevated ground, and belongings covered in cloth.
Audio description for documentary
Visitors have the option of viewing a 35-minute documentary called Monument To The Dream as part of their visit to the Gateway Arch Museum. While I didn’t watch this on my visit, one of the National Parks Service employees helpfully told me that there was audio description available, and I could request an audio description device from the Information Desk inside the Gateway Arch.
- Fast Facts About Audio Description
- Visiting The Museum of Modern Art With Vision Loss
- Visiting The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Museum With Low Vision
Virtual tours of the Gateway Arch
Museum crowds can make it difficult to get to all of the exhibits, so the Gateway Arch Museum has also added several virtual tours online so that guests can learn more about individual exhibits, as well as get a live feed of the top of the Gateway Arch. Since I physically can’t climb the stairs to get to the top of the arch, I appreciate being able to still get an exciting view from my phone or other technology.
- Virtual Tour – Gateway Arch National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
- How To Make Virtual Museums Accessible For Visual Impairments
Listening to podcasts about the Gateway Arch
There are a ton of interesting podcasts that go more in depth about the visuals of the arch and how it was designed, which can be downloaded onto a MP3 player or streamed on a smart speaker device like the Amazon Echo Dot. Since podcasts rely on audio to convey information, podcast hosts often give more detailed visual descriptions than people who are creating video content.
Taking photos at the Gateway Arch
There are lots of creative poses and photos to take at the Gateway Arch, and a National Parks Service employee gave me a few recommendations for poses that are great for blind or low vision visitors:
- Take a photo with the scale model inside the Gateway Arch Museum
- Lean your back against the base of the arch
- Stand in front of the Arch and extend your arms above your head or to the side as if you are pushing the Arch away from you
- For people who use a pencil tip or metal disk tip for a blindness cane, angle your cane tip towards the Arch so it looks like your cane is touching the top
- Take a selfie using a virtual assistant tool like Seeing AI or Google Assistant to help with positioning
- Taking Selfies With Vision Loss
- Decoding The Tips of Blindness Canes
- Smartphone Apps For Orientation and Mobility
More tips for visiting the Gateway Arch Museum with low vision
- Ranger-led tours are given daily for free at the Gateway Arch and the museum, and special accessibility tours can be requested online in advance
- The Gateway Arch Museum offers free admission for all guests, though some other activities such as the documentary require a small fee
- Visiting a bunch of national parks? Consider getting a disability pass for free or discounted admission to various federal recreation sites. I talk about this more in US Government Programs For Blind/Low Vision Residents