by Rebecca Fuller, RAF Models & Displays
The goal of Universal Design is to make information and experiences
accessible to as wide an audience as possible. This audience will
include people with varied intellectual and physical abilities,
people of different sizes and ages, as well as people with different
backgrounds and interests.
Tactile exhibits fill an important role in providing a multi-sensory
experience for all museum visitors by providing a "hands-on" experience
for everyone. Additionally, the tactile exhibit may be the primary
tool that provides access to the information being presented to
the audience with visual impairments.
When setting out to create "tactile exhibits" there are a number
of questions to ask yourself: Questions such as, "What do you
want to accomplish with a tactile exhibit, what type of information
are you trying to convey - and what level of information are you
trying to get across?"
Tactile exhibits vary widely but some broad categories of their
function are Orientation, Interpretation and Comparison.
|Brazo's Bend State Park tactile map.
One possible goal for a tactile model is orienting people to the
physical layout of your site. The Brazo's Bend State Park model
is an example of a "Tactile Orientation Map."
By providing a tactile, or raised graphic map, you give the visitor
a method, through touch, of understanding the relationships of
the different elements of the site. The Brazo's Bend map conveys
information such as, "if I leave the Visitor's Center and travel
west on the Loop Road, when I reach the point where I can turn
left on the trail, I will be half way to the fishing pier."
|Model of Pecos Natinal Historical Park.
It is important that an orientation map keep the information clear
and concise. There is no need to know that you pass 32 trees between
the Visitor's Center and the fishing pier.
Another possible goal of an orientation map is to locate the
Park within a larger geographic area. A model such as Pecos National
Historical Park tells the visitor that the park is located below
the bluffs and that both the Interstate and the Santa Fe Trail
pass through the park. All visitors get a "bird's eye view" that
would only be possible if they were in an airplane.
Park tactile map.
Other tactile models are designed to give a greater understanding
of a site to the entire audience. A highly realistic "tactile" model
of a tunnel passing through a mountain - such as the model of Natural
Tunnel State Park - allows children to reach into the tunnel on
one side of the model and touch the fingers of someone reaching
from the other side.
Along with interpretation provided by the naturalists, it enables
people to feel and understand how a tiny stream found it's way
through a crack in the mountain and eventually eroded away so
much of the mountain that a train can now travel through the passageway.
Some sites, such as the prehistoric cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde,
take a great deal of physical effort to reach. In this type of
situation a large portion of the audience may not have the ability
to make the climb, or may not have the desire to go to the height
necessary to reach the caves. A tactile model of the cliff dwellings
will provide an understanding of the site to all visitors.
Tactile models can be used to facilitate making comparisons between
different things. One example is an exhibit that discussed how
the physical structure of a jawbone allows one to draw conclusions
about the diet of an animal.
Moose, wolf, and mouse jawbone exhibit.
This was illustrated by: increasing the size of a mouse skull, decreasing
the size of a moose skull and recreating a wolf skull at its actual
size; thus making it possible to compare the shape and locations
of the teeth and jaw, and to see that each animal was "built" to
handle a completely different diet.
Another important example of using tactile models to make comparisons
is the exhibit of Bath House Row at Hot Springs National Park.
Here the designer has worked with the Park to use four different
scales to increase the visitor's understanding.
|Bird's eye view of Bath House Row.
The "bird's eye view" model uses texture to distinguish and locate
the area of the Park within the surrounding landscape. In this model
the buildings in Bath House Row are approximately the size of sugar
cubes, and the entire row of buildings is perhaps 6 inches long.
|Bath House Row.
In the next larger model Bath House Row is 6 feet long with individual
buildings ranging from 4 to 9 inches wide. At this scale the texture
of the roofs and the indentation of the windows and other architectural
details are distinguishable both by sight and touch.
|Indian head above front
entry of Bath House.
The third enlargement shows the facades of two of the Bath Houses
at a scale large enough (one façade is 14 inches wide, the other
is 24 inches wide) to include a high level of textural detail. It
is possible to distinguish the carving of the Indian head above
the door of one of the buildings - and then make a comparison to,
in the fourth step:
|Full-scale replica of Indian head.
An exact, full-scale replica of the Indian head architectural detail
which was made by creating a mold of the actual architectural detail,
casting it and putting it inside on the wall where all visitors
can explore the intricacies of the carving.
The exhibit at Hot Springs National Park is an excellent example
of using the comparison of different scales to give all visitors
a clearer understanding of the rich architectural detail of the
Bath Houses. It is also a perfect example of Universal Design
deepening and enriching the learning and experience of every visitor.
The possible applications of tactile models are limited only
by the imaginations of exhibit designers, model fabricators and
site interpreters. The wide range of durable materials now available;
from bronze, which has been used for thousands of years, to plastics
and space age polymers, allows for an endless variety of tactile
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