When my brother and I went to New York City, we had the opportunity to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art, also known as The Met and learn about how to access The Met with vision impairment. At first, my brother was probably slightly confused as to why I wanted to go to an art museum since I am visually impaired, but it ended up being an awesome experience that taught me a lot about how audio description is used in describing art. Here are my tips for visiting The Met with vision impairment, inclusive of low vision and blindness.
What is The Met?
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, also known as The Met, is an art museum in New York City that showcases classical and modern art from all over the world. A variety of mediums are on display, including paintings, sculptures, pottery, and much more. There are three locations across New York City, though my brother and I visited the main museum along Museum Mile on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, near Central Park.
Admission for New York residents, as well as students from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, is pay what you can, with no set admission fee. For visitors from outside New York State, admission fees are $25 for adults, $17 for seniors, and $12 for students. Admission is valid for three days at all of the other Met locations. Since my brother and I are college students in Virginia, it cost us both $24 to get in.
The Met has several different galleries which are divided up into different sections by time period or style. Each gallery is large and spacious, connecting to the next gallery so guests can easily move between exhibits. There are two floors of the museum open to the public, and the second floor can be accessed by elevator if needed.
Large print and Braille
If needed, guests can request a free booklet at the front desk that features large print and Braille labels for various exhibits in the museum. I personally didn’t want to carry this around, as I prefer to access information digitally, but the option was available if I wanted it.
With advanced notice, The Met can put together a guided touch or verbal description tour for blind or visually impaired individuals or groups. These tours allow visitors to gently touch art with the guidance of a curator, or listen to vivid descriptions of different parts of the collection. There are also monthly activities for guests with blindness or low vision- check The Met website for more details. While I have not done a touch tour at The Met, I have been on a touch tour at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and it was an awesome experience.
- Official website for The Met- For Visitors Who Are Blind or Partially Sighted
- Tips For Visiting Art Museums With Low Vision
- Writing Image Descriptions For Red Carpet Outfits
Requesting free audio description
The audio guide devices can be rented for a small fee, but visitors who are blind or that have low vision can get them free of charge. I just walked to the desk with my cane and they gave me the device, no questions asked. I’m sure that if I didn’t have a cane and just told them that I have trouble seeing that they still would have given me the device. According to the official website, the audio guide can also be used for free by anyone who is deaf/hard of hearing or New York City high schoolers with a valid ID.
About the audio description device
The audio description device reminds me of a TV remote in size, and I can wear it on a lanyard around my neck. It has numbered buttons similar to a phone dialer, as well as play/pause and stop buttons. There is also a screen that displays a picture of the art, but I found this difficult to see.
Finding audio description numbers
In order to use the audio description device, users type in a numerical code that is on the exhibit glass. For example, the code for a sculpture called “Marble statue of a lion” was labeled as having the code “1045.” Some exhibits may have two codes for the different audio tours.
What is described
Audio descriptions are written and narrated by curators or special guests at the museum, incorporating in music or other sounds. The curators describe the appearance of the art, along with information about materials used and the history behind the piece. Sometimes, information about the artist and time period is also shared, though this depends on the piece.
- Fast Facts About Audio Description
- Using GalaPro Audio Description at Chicago
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- Visiting The Museum of Modern Art With Vision Loss
Viewing images up close
Using Google Assistant
My favorite way to view art at museums is by using the Google Assistant camera or Google Lens. All I have to do is point my phone at a picture of the art, and the software will recognize the artwork and display a higher resolution image. This is especially helpful for pieces that are small or that have lots of detail. If there’s a piece I want to look at on a larger screen, I typically bookmark the page and then cast the webpage to my Chromecast when I get home.
The Met website
On the official website for The Met, visitors can view thousands of high-resolution images from the museum’s collection, including images of art that aren’t on public display. Users can also search the collection by artist, culture, gallery, title, and other search filters.
Google Arts and Culture
There are several online interactive exhibits from The Met available on the Google Arts and Culture website, iOS app, and Android app, as well as thousands of images from the galleries available in high resolution. I love the online exhibits because I can view past traveling exhibits and have text descriptions read out loud with VoiceOver or other screen readers.
- Using the Google Assistant Camera with Low Vision
- The Met Official Collection
- The Met on Google Arts and Culture
- VR For VI: How Visually Impaired Students Can Use Virtual Reality
- Ten Ways Vision Impairment Influenced Classic Artists
I love visiting art museums, and The Met was definitely one of my favorites from our New York City trip. The audio description greatly enhanced my experience and I never once felt out of place or left out for using my blindness cane to navigate the beautiful exhibits. I highly recommend visiting The Met with visual impairment, or at least checking out their virtual archives.