When my brother and I went to visit New York City in 2018, one of the things I was most excited about was visiting the Museum of Modern Art with vision loss. While it may seem odd that someone who uses a blindness cane would be so enthusiastic about visual art, MOMA has a lot of really cool accessibility features for guests who are blind or that have low vision. Here are my tips for visiting the Museum of Modern Art with visual impairment, which encompasses vision loss such as low vision and blindness.
Audio description at MOMA
Audio description devices can be used in-person at MOMA or accessed online from home.
REQUESTING AUDIO DESCRIPTION DEVICES
Audio tour guides, also known as audio description devices or assistive listening devices, are available free of charge at the ticket desk or the audio tour guide desk on the first floor of the museum. Guests who self-identify as being blind or visually impaired will have their device configured for VoiceOver, though all guests have access to the same audio description tracks.
About audio tour guides
The audio tour guide devices consist of an iPod Touch/iTouch inside a protective case and on a lanyard. Visitors type in the audio number number found on the exhibit signs and listen to a 4-7 minute description of the artwork or design concept presented. Additional audio tours available include a tour for kids that provides more vivid descriptions and tours in foreign languages.
Accessing audio tours with personal devices
Prefer to use a personal device? Audio tours are also available on the Bloomberg Connects mobile application for iOS, or on the MOMA Audio website. Visitors can type in the audio number or browse audio collections by exhibit on the app or website.
What to expect from audio description
Each audio description track describes visual details of the artwork such as colors, textures, patterns, materials used, and size, as well as other details that are covered on the exhibit labels such as history and more information about the artist. Some exhibits also include interviews with the artists and art historians in addition to descriptions, and extended descriptions are available online in the form of podcasts.
One of the descriptions I found especially interesting is the descriptions for Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, and Claude Monet’s Water Lillies. Surprisingly, the description for Monet’s work did not mention that he likely lived with a visual impairment, which is something I thought was really cool.
- Audio | MoMA
- Tips For Visiting Art Museums With Low Vision
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Viewing high resolution images at MOMA
Google Assistant or Siri searches
I have an Android phone, so I can ask Google Assistant to search for a given art item on display by saying the name of the piece, along with the name of the artist if available. After saying or typing my request, I can quickly get access to several images of the item on display so I can view them on my phone more easily- this is a great way to view intricate details that I wouldn’t be able to see in-person.
The Museum of Modern Art has an archive of many of their items on display on the Collection section of their website, where visitors can search for artists and their works online and get access to high-resolution images and text-based descriptions.
Virtual Views is another MOMA program that provides online guided tours and high resolution images for select exhibits, including traveling exhibits and permanent exhibitions.
Want to explore exhibits and different art styles even more in-depth? MOMA’s YouTube channel has a ton of interesting content that viewers can check out before or after going to the museum.
- How I Use Google Assistant While Traveling
- The Collection | MoMA
- Virtual Views | MoMA
- The Museum of Modern Art – YouTube
Getting live descriptions of artwork at MOMA
Aira visual interpreters
Aira is a paid visual interpreting service that connects users with professional visual interpreters, who can provide descriptions of items on display and helps visitors navigate the museum with vision loss- interpreters have access to maps of the inside of the museum to assist with wayfinding. I prefer to use Aira for navigating between exhibits and listen to the audio guide for descriptions.
MOMA tours for blind and visually impaired
The Museum of Modern Art offers specialty tours for blind and visually impaired visitors monthly with their Art InSight program- these tours are free of charge and require advance registration. I have not attended an InSight tour at MOMA, but have attended similar tours at other museums and loved it!
- Smartphone Apps For Orientation and Mobility
- Art inSight | MoMA
- How To Make Virtual Museums Accessible For Visual Impairments
More tips for visiting the Museum of Modern Art with vision loss
- MOMA also offers braille and large print exhibit guides at the ticket counter that are free of charge. I don’t read braille, but found it helpful to navigate the museum with the large print guide
- Users can activate high-contrast text on the MOMA website by scrolling to the bottom and selecting Use High Contrast Text
- Another option for visiting MOMA with low vision is to explore their collection on Google Arts and Culture, which can be found at MoMA The Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States — Google Arts & Culture
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