Sensing Architecture in Chicago: Developing Tours for Visually Impaired Visitors (2019 A+DEN Workshop, Design Matters Conference)

Jen Masengarb, Danish Architecture Centre and Former Director of Research and Interpretation, Chicago Architecture Center; Robin Simon, Chicago Architecture Center Docent

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Chicago Architecture Center embarked on a goal of increasing accessibility on its tours to visually impaired visitors. In partnership with The Chicago Lighthouse, CAC developed a new walking tour led by its volunteer docents. It was one of the first times that CAC collaborated so extensively with an external partner for the development of a tour—for an audience we previously knew so little about.

In this session, we’ll discuss the beautiful and surprising challenges of interpreting architecture for the visually impaired, as well as many mistaken assumptions we had in welcoming these visitors. In pilot testing the tour, we learned a great deal about which types of buildings can be the most useful and teachable – when other senses are relied on more heavily than sight. With donations from local 3D printing partners, we created custom massing models and we’ll discuss the thought process behind the choice of scale, materials, and detail in them – and what might be done differently in the future.  The development of the tour also called for a re-training of docents who were used to letting the building (visually) speak for itself and some of those techniques will be demonstrated in this session. Finally, we discuss how this tour led to other unexpected moments of engagement and discovery of architecture for an audience that had not previously seen CAC as a place for them

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Design Education
Posted by Mary.Fichtner on November 21, 2019 - 10:55am