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Amusing… A European Network of Good Practices for Visual Accessibility

Annalisa Trasatti, Services Organizer, Museo Tattile Statale Omero

Success in the comments of teachers and students from Spain, Italy, Greece and Lithuania

The European project AMUSING (Adapting Museums for Inclusive Goals) recently cameto a close. It was co-funded by the European Union through the Erasmus plus programme and, besides the Museo Omero and the artistic liceo “Edgardo Mannucci” for Italy, it involved a further eight international partners from Spain, Greece and Lithuania.
The main aims of the project were to pool good practices for making it easier for the visually impaired to become acquainted with art, increasing knowledge and awareness of their needs, also by exploiting the potentialities of 3D printing, and involving students from partner schools in making some prototypes.
Between 2019 and 2022 various gatherings have been held in the member countries: at The Lighthouse for the Blind of Greece, the Lithuanian National Museum in Vilnius and the Ajutamént in Valencia.
The idea was to extend the exchange of good practices for teaching art history to students with visual problems. Side by side with the transnational meetings, a week-long training course was organized for participants. It was held at the premises of the Fablab Cuenca (Spain), the project’s tecnical partner, and involved trying out a range of programs and machinery for relief printing with materials such as wood, resin and plastic.
On 5 and 6 May, 2022, Italy was the venue, and the meeting was held at the Museo Omero and the Liceo Artistico “Edgardo Mannucci” in Ancona. Participants particularly appreciated the richness of the Museum’s collection and the opportunity to gain a more thorough knowledge of the different strategies for interpreting the art work in the collection, especially the production of relief drawings with the Minolta kiln technique, which is much less common abroad.
The main object of the AMUSING project is to achieve real inclusion for visually impaired learners. It is a task which is tackled from various angles, including ways of learning about the services which raise awareness of the needs of this group of people and the educational development afforded by the potentialities of 3D printing. 3D printing can ease routines and empower the visually impaired students in their planning, production and assessment.
Oscar Lonzano, project organizer (IES Conselleiria, Valencia): “The AMUSING project was a great opportunity to share good practices in terms of museum accessibility in general,and with reference to the visually impaired in particular. In our role as organizer we got to know all the different viewpoints of the partners and we learnt from all of them. It is important to share different approaches in order to improve issues like accessibility, awareness, student and teacher motivation, and the new possibilities afforded by technology. As expected, these were the key points touched upon by the project. Not just the students but the teachers and museum professionals have come to appreciate 3D scanning, design and printing as a useful technology for improving the museum experience of visually impaired people. Of course, touching real works of art is the best way to enjoy them, but sometimes (as with architectural details or very delicate pieces such as ancient jewellery or design objects) this is not possible and an alternative has to be found. Also the link between schools and museums is something that the project has improved, showing that it is possible to work together and learn from one another. Museums are perfect places for non-formal learning, and any venture undertaken to strengthen these bonds is always welcome.”
Carlos Millan (IES Conseilleria), points out that “the possibilities that new 3D printing technology offers the blind community are enormous. The predicted impact is clearly visible. It will have an effect, both in raising awareness of visual impairment (among the students taking part) and in improving the living conditions of the end-users of the 3D objects. In addition, every means was used to publicize the project and ensure its visibility. Similarly, the sustainability of the project is guaranteed by both the long “useful life” of the objects generated and the teaching method adopted. This in fact can be easily replicated in the years to come and will certainly leave its mark (not least in terms of inclusion values) on the students taking part. From a technological point of view, we learnt the photogrammetry technique, and we introduced this technology into the classroom, adapting the resources to those we had (using the students’ smartphones, using computers with Lliurex, which is the Linux distribution used in the Valencian schools, and so on). Finally, where best practices are concerned, it is advisable to be selective in choosing the artworks to be scanned, favouring those that are traceable by author and period so as to create a good descriptive text which is complete and morphologically detailed (more difficult with anonymous pieces).”
The view of the schools themselves is expressed by Elena García-Rubio Caballero (IES Benlliure, Valencia) who describes how a group of fifteen 16-year-old students from her institute actively participated in a project to adapt some museums in Valencia to the needs of visually impaired visitors. “The use of service-learning methods in the classes ensured that – after reflecting on the aims of the project and developing an awareness of the difficulties faced by the visually impaired in accessing museums – the students applied their knowledge to making 3D replicas that can be touched by whoever wishes to. In order to do that, the students had to learn to use photogrammetry programs, mesh retouching and fused deposition printing. This opened up opportunities to learn skills which will be useful to them later when they enter the job market since additive manufacturing skills are increasingly in demand. The printed models are scale copies of some of the collections of the Natural Science Museum of Valencia and the Casa-Museo Benlliure.”
And finally a word from Francesca Santi of the Museo Omero, whose views I fully share: “The museum institutions involved discussed the various methods that can be adopted to make their collections accessibile: from the importance of a guide and a description to the use of typhlo-didactic aids and the possibility of making copies using a 3D printer. Although this printer offers numerous applications in the teaching field, it is not always the most suitable means of making art more accessible to the visually impaired because it cannot always guarantee good results from a tactile point of view. The possibility extended by 3D printing of making numerous copies of the same artefact relatively inexpensively, in terms of time and money, must not be allowed to distract us from the goal of allowing the visually impaired to touch the originals, wherever possible.”
Website Erasmus Amusing