The Vancouver Art Gallery Is Now Offering Described Tours for the Visually Impaired

Making great strides in inclusivity, the VAG will be the first museum in B.C. to offer live described tours for blind and partially sighted visitors.

February 1, 2019

By Ayesha Habib / Photo: Sarah DeSantis

The Vancouver Art Gallery, which recently made headlines thanks to a record-breaking $40 million donation and talks of a 200-employee union strike, has announced that it will now offer described tours for blind and partially sighted persons. Following in the footsteps of institutions like the Smithsonian Art Museum in its efforts to provide greater accessibility, the VAG is the first museum in B.C. to offer live in-person described tours. The hour-long tours will be offered on the first Saturday of each month.

“The importance and appeal of the visual arts is universal and they are meant to be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of ability,” Kathleen S. Bartels, director of the VAG, said in a press statement.

But how do these tours differ from the pre-recorded audio recordings that the gallery already offers? Professional Gallery Educators, each whom is equipped with more than 30 hours of workshop training, will guide patrons with varying levels of sight through exhibitions, providing in-depth descriptions as they go. The added personal touch of these tours will enable visually impaired visitors to cultivate deeper relationships with the art, notes the VAG.

In addition, the VAG has teamed up with VocalEye, a Vancouver-based nonprofit that works to improve access to the arts for the visually impaired, to create a four-step “Level of Experience” process. The first level is aimed at base observations: the most apparent features of a work. The second moves toward the non-apparent details to provide visitors with more context behind the art. The penultimate stage focuses on the viewer’s direct subjective feelings toward the art, while the final level will be a sensory experience involving models, textures and tactile drawing techniques.

Described tours for the coming months have been announced for the VAG’s next exhibitions:

February 2: The Metamorphosis

March 2: A Curator’s View: Ian Thom Selects

April 6: French Moderns: Monet to Matisse, 1850–1950

Capacity is limited, so registration through e-mail (buddies@vocaleye.ca) is required. You can also arrange to meet a VocalEye Sighted Guide at Burrard Skytrain station for accompaniment to and from the gallery through the same e-mail.

Get the Newsletter

Own your city with Vancouver’s thrice-weekly scoop on the latest restaurant news, must-shop hotspots and can’t miss events. Rest assured your email is safe with us.