Sunday, 10 February 2013
'Sorry, we can't allow dogs in the gallery': art galleries and the visually impaired.
There are of course some instances where dark lighting and sporadic composition is necessary for the integrity of a particular work or installation.
I’ve been in galleries where I am unable to proceed to the next room because of something as simple as a poorly lit throughway. I could have asked for an invigilator’s help, and I’m sure they would have obliged but instead I turned on my heels and left – for those with disabilities, independence is very important, and based on the size and layout of the gallery, the provision of an alternative route would not have been a problem.
There is also a lack of understanding and awareness by some galleries regarding the presence of guide dogs. Guide dogs, by law, have exactly the same access as the general public. When a gallery asks if I can leave the guide dog in reception, or tells me which rooms I have to avoid, it is a needlessly humiliating and often confrontational experience. I wonder if they would ask a wheelchair-user to leave their chair in reception.
Steps have been made in recent years to improve the physical access of disabled users to the gallery space; but in terms of intellectual access, they leave a lot to be desired. Token gestures of appeasement tend to come in the form of a sculpture that you can touch, and objects that you can hear or smell. It is an incredibly patronising assumption to make that a person who is visually impaired would want the same intellectual relationship to art as a toddler.
It seems that the gallery environment needs a radical rethink: a wheelchair ramp and some braille on the lifts just won’t cut it anymore if a gallery wants to be an inclusive public space.
Photo: © Jon Cronshaw.