The Museo Tattile Statale Omero of Ancona: A virtuous example of accessibility in museums
by Virginia Vannucchi
“I don’t really like the definition of ‘museum for blind people’. Because since its birth, it was conceived as a museum for everyone. A museum without barriers, therefore, means that anyone who enters it has the opportunity to use it, according to their needs and conditions”
— Aldo Grassini (Network Museum Interview, 2017)
Accessibility is an important topic of our generation, whether you are talking about services, media and — why not — culture. The recent events, more than ever, have jolted museums and cultural institutions into new possibilities, one of these things being meeting every individual’s needs and necessities. Accessibility is integral to our mission at Ki Culture, under the umbrella of Social Sustainability, which includes human rights, equality, equity, and social justice, to name a few. Download our free Social Sustainability Ki Book here.
Current conversations about the cultural sector acknowledge the role of the museum as an institution “at the service of society and its development” (International Council of Museums, 2007), in charge of representing society in all aspects and acting as the engine of social change. This is why it is important for museums to assess their current practices, their values towards inclusion and — consequently — the interpretation, display, and accessibility of their collections.
A special approach to accessibility in museums should be pursued for people with disabilities. A ‘free-of-barriers’ museum does not only consist of the absence of obstacles to reach places and services, but it embraces the wider concepts of autonomy and self-determination. Therefore, in addition to architectural barriers, museums should take their cultural offer and choice of language into consideration.
The Omero Tactile State Museum
The Omero Tactile State Museum of Ancona, Italy is one of the few tactile museums in the world. Initially created to promote the integration of people with visual impairments, the museum aims to be a truly accessible institution. The idea of a tactile museum was born in 1985, thanks to Aldo Grassini and Daniela Bottegon, passionate travelers — both blind — who were tired of the recurring prohibition “Do not touch!” usually present in most museums.
It was Daniela, at first, who had the idea to collect reproductions of the most famous art masterpieces, in order to allow also blind people to fully enjoy and appreciate them through touching. “We were, perhaps, the first ones in the world to think something like this, or at least the first ones to do it” says Aldo Grassini, who strongly believes that an inaccessible museum is a contradiction (Network Museum Interview, 2017).
Since cultural heritage, he says, is not protected for its own benefit, but for human beings to enjoy, everyone has the same right to access it. Therein lies the importance of cultural heritage’s valorization.
The museum was officially founded in 1993, by the Municipality of Ancona, Italy, with financial support from the Marches Region. In 1999, the Omero Museum was recognized as a State Museum by the Italian Parliament, who confirmed its unique value on an international level.
Commitment to accessibility throughout the Museum
The Museum’s collection is composed of architectural models, casts, and actual-size or scale copies of sculptures and archaeological finds from prehistory to Roman times. The museum also hosts a contemporary art gallery, with original sculptures provided by contemporary artists. It goes without saying that the entire collection is accessible and usable through the sense of touch.
To facilitate people with visual impairments, the museum offers panels with captions in both large characters and Braille. Additionally, visitors can use moving platforms to situate themselves at different heights and angles of each sculpture. This allows visitors to experience the whole structure, from bottom to top.
Aldo and Daniela, however, soon realized that touch was not just a necessity for those with visual impairments, but also a pleasure that everyone could benefit from. “We discovered something that was not so obvious” Grassini says, that “the sense of touch has its own peculiarities, as do sight and the other senses”, therefore, through touch, it is possible to experience art in an alternative way, adding to the overall experience (Network Museum Interview, 2017). This idea reinforces the idea behind the creation of the Omero Museum: trying to offer something that everyone could benefit from.
Today, thanks to its new initiatives and structures, the Omero Museum also welcomes families with children on the autism spectrum, deaf people, and those with mobility impairments. Since 2002, the museum staff also designs, upon request, specific activities and customizable projects, to meet the wants and needs of their visitors.
In 2010, the traveling section ‘Bello e Accessible’ (Beautiful and Accessible) of the museum was born. This new appendix of the Omero Museum was created to export its tactile and multisensory approach towards art, promoting the idea of a Culture without barriers both nationally and internationally, and bringing blind people and people with visual impairments closer to art.
Thanks to this initiative, the Omero Museum has gained popularity worldwide, providing its knowledge and experience with many institutions who, following its example, want to increase their own accessibility. The Omero Museum even offers consultancy and services to help create itineraries and temporary exhibitions that are accessible and equipped with the necessary tools for blind people and people with visual impairments.
“My dream” says Aldo Grassini “is that, one day, the Museo Tattile Statale Omero will no longer be needed”, since this would mean that the museum community would have solved the issue linked to the lack of accessibility (Network Museum Interview, 2017). And now it finally seems, he adds, that time has come.
Virginia Vannucchi graduated with a bachelor’s degree in History and Conservation of the Cultural Heritage at Florence University and currently doing an MA degree in History of Art. She has always been passionate about everything related to art and the cultural heritage and is happy to bring her creativity to Ki Culture as a Content Contributor.