Recommendations for Accessible City Tours
These are our recommendations for making your city tours more inclusive and accessible for visually impaired participants.
Recommendations for inclusive, multisensory City Tours
Three recommendations from a participant to a guide
These are three simple and easy tips you as a participant can recommend to a tour guide when you spontaneously join a tour, to make their tour more inclusive for people with visual impairments.
- Name and describe the things you’re showing us.
- Explain and describe the way we will go next (route and surroundings).
- Point out things I can touch, smell, listen to.
Recommendations for tour guides
The participants of the project gave these following recommendations during evaluation rounds.
- Include some time for preparation before the start of the tour.
- Generally, a city tour should not take longer than 90 minutes. However, exploring and experiencing things multisensory takes longer than by sight alone. If you plan a longer tour, include times for breaks at appropriate places.
- Review the route you have planned before the tour. Are there obstacles or difficulties in accessibility? May the walks be too long?
- Seek out places where the city can be experienced through other senses besides sight: is there a certain smell, sound, taste that’s typical to the city? Where can cultural heritage be accessed by touch?
- Consider the size of the group and if it fits the programme you have planned.
- Make sure everyone will be able to hear the information you provide. Wait until everyone has stopped walking and is close to you before you speak. If possible, invest in a wireless headphone system or similar to amplify your voice.
- The guide should be easily recognisable visually (e.g. through brightly coloured clothing, an umbrella or similar), and acoustically (e.g. through wearing a bell).
- Include storytelling in your tour. Tell the story of famous representatives of the city, or of fictional persons representing the typical population. Do a walk “together” with these persons. Find anecdotes and legends to tell. Alternatively, organise to meet with people from the typical population to encourage and create a more intense contact to tradition and culture.
- At the end of each stop during the tour, describe the route to the next stop.
Preparation of participants
- Offer the participants a programme of the tour with descriptions of the route and the names of the places that will be visited and described.
- Provide large-scale print and tactile maps of the tour and include time to explore them beforehand.
- Give information you might not be able to provide during the tour itself, like the structure of the city or streets, the character of the buildings and places you will visit etc.
- Give a description of the way you will take, e.g. stairs, construction sites etc.
- Announce beforehand when you provide something to eat or visit a religious building.
- Provide links to web resources where participants may inform themselves beforehand.
How to provide a multisensory experience
- Orientation and direction of description: Describe a scene, object, building etc. in a clear direction, e.g. from left to right or from the centre to the outside. Don’t jump from one corner to another. The position and distance of objects should be described exactly, e.g. in metres and with precise directions. You can give directions with clock times: “At 10 o’clock from us is a well.”
Describe from the listeners’ point of view.
- Point out important visual features to partially sighted people.
- The terms you use should be sufficiently familiar. Technical terms can often describe architecture and art accurately, but not everyone understands these terms.
- The majority of blind people went blind late in life and can thus fall back on visual memories, such as colours and the appearance of certain things. For birth-blind people, however, you should not use descriptions that presume too many visual experiences. Take some time to describe important visuals in more detail.
- Seek out guides and recommendations on audio descriptions to get an idea of the techniques and important features used in descriptions.
Elements of description you can focus on:
- The structure of a city or area, e.g. the street alignment and types of streets and paths, the structure of the buildings.
- The type of buildings: their size, architectural style, time of origin, materials used.
- When you name architectural styles, describe typical examples as well. Many people don’t know the defining features of different periods of art and don’t know what terms like Bauhaus, Gothic or Romanesque entail.
- Describe the design of streets and squares, the flooring, width, roadways and pedestrian areas.
- Describe plants, flowers and trees.
- Describe the artwork in public spaces, like street art, statues, and murals.
- Point out things that can be touched, e.g. elements of the architecture like columns, stucco and interesting building materials, or statues.
- Read out the text on plaques and signs.
This point is important for partially sighted participants of your tour.
- If you invite participants to look at something, make sure the lighting and perspective supports optimal visibility:
- Try to find a place with uniform light by avoiding the twilight hours of sunrise or sunset
- Position your participants in a way so that the light source is either behind them or at their side
- Avoid too many reflections or shadows
- Take photos of details that are difficult to see, for example due to size or distance. Show these photos on a tablet or similar electronic device so that the participants can zoom in our out depending on their needs and preferences.
- Keep in mind that exploring something by touch takes longer than taking it in visually!
- If possible, provide one tactile object per participant. If there’s only one object of each kind, explain them first and then hand them out to the participants.
- There are a lot of touchable artworks, sculptures and other elements in public spaces.
- If an object is big enough so several people can touch it at the same time, explain and describe it before letting as many people as possible explore it simultaneously.
- Review your planned route through the city and make a list of all touchable objects.
- Keep in mind that touching objects is not very convenient or comfortable when it’s cold or raining.
- Provide an appropriate surface on which the participants can explore tactile maps, plans, writing or images.
- If you want to create tactile images, see the annex: Good tactile images for all.
- In a survey, visually impaired participants provided examples of what they like to explore by touch the most:
- Architecture (e.g. statues, walls, columns, fountains)
- Miniatures of buildings and artworks
- City plans and maps
- Machines, tools, handcrafted objects
- Nature (plants, trees)
- Seek out or provide typical smells for the city or region of your tour. For example, during a tour of the Opera of Wallonie, the guides provided samples of smells typical to the different backstage jobs, i.e. the smell of hairspray for the hairstylists, the smell of makeup for makeup artists, the smell of sage ointment for the singers, the smell of wood shavings for stage designers.
- In a survey, visually impaired participants said they enjoyed the smells of
- local foods, beverages, spices
- local nature
- artisan craftworks, perfumes and soaps
- the general environment: the smell of markets, houses of worship, old buildings
- Find a context to taste things connected to the city and/or the content of your tour.
- If there’s a typical and/or traditional food or beverage in the city, find a place related to it and offer the participants a taste. Keep food allergies and dietary restrictions in mind and get a list of the ingredients so participants may ask beforehand.
- In some cities, you can find eatable plants and fruits and invite your participants to taste them.
- Seek out typical noises of the city like church bells and carillons, fountains, trams, the riverside.
- Bells and carillons usually chime at certain times, make sure not to miss them.
- If the carillon plays a certain melody, research and explain it.
- Invite participants to recognise bird songs.
- Play recordings of historical noises, e.g. the sound of a smithy, or of typical/traditional music.
- If appropriate and possible, arrange to meet with a street musician and let participants explore the instrument(s).
- Plan your tour route so you can avoid parts of the city that are difficult to navigate, e.g.
- Overcrowded spaces
- Places by construction sites
- Overtly uneven ground
- Plan you routes so they are accessible with any kind of impairment, i.e. avoid stairs if there is no wheelchair-accessible ramp or lift
Annex: Good tactile images for all
In the transmission of cultural goods, works of art, architecture, landscape structure and scientific-technical objects the following methods are generally recommended according to the following ranking.
These methods are especially important for people with vision impairment, who can see images, photos, graphics, movies, etc., only in a limited way. A holistic approach with as many senses as possible however is useful for everybody.
1. Actively representing the objects
- The posture of a person in a painting can be imitated.
- A represented action can be mimicked.
- A technical or biological process can be illustrated by an experiment.
2. Original objects
Original objects should be made accessible. As many objects as possible should be tactile. For touching sensitive surfaces one can use cotton or latex gloves. Highly valuable or sensitive objects can be replaced by faithful reproductions. Even parts of an object are helpful for a holistic impression as e.g. a special tactile paint application on a canvas, a gearwheel on a transmission or a blossom of a plant.
If originals or faithful objects are not accessible, models can be useful, e.g. if the original is too large, too hot, too sharp or too dangerous.
4. Tactile images
Those are especially useful, if the original has a flat surface, e.g. a painting, a blueprint, a map etc.
Objects or facts which are barely or not at all presentable in a tactile form can be described orally.
Ten Guidelines for the Production of Tactile Objects
- Orientation on Target Group and Context
The following criteria do not apply equally to every blind and visually impaired person. The presentation of images should always be focused on the specific target group. For those in various stages of tactile training and concept development as well as for congenitally blind and acquired blind, images with different complexity or abstraction level can be useful in order to familiarize them with the metaphorical language of the sighted. Also important are the circumstances in which the tactile media are used. A building model next to a cathedral needs different requirements than a relief which is only used for guided tours with small groups.
- Simple pictures! They don’t need to be faithfully copied with every single detail.
- The picture has to be limited to its essential elements, simply because haptic perception takes longer.
- The image must be adapted to age, haptic ability and gained experience of the recipients.
- Complicated facts should probably be arranged on several tactile pictures.
- Symbols and forms of representation should be uniform.
- Diversity of Materials
- Use as many different materials as possible!
- The materials should feel like the represented originals. You can use for instance articles from craft stores (e.g. leaves of artificial flowers) or self-made miniatures (e.g. modelling clay).
- Original objects like stones, wood pieces, fur, snail houses or shells can be applied as well.
- Clear Differences
The elements of a tactile image should be clearly distinguishable, e.g. by clear edges, level differences or different surface finishes.
- Creating Forms instead of Drawing Lines
The form of the objects should be represented as faithfully as possible. E.g. a circularly elevated surface can more easily be recognized as a ball than a tactile circular line.
- Considering Haptic Anatomy
- Lines or dots less than 2 mm apart cannot be sensed. Therefore the distance must always be larger.
- Lines cannot be felt as easily as flat areas. Approaching or crossing lines can easily create the impression of closed figures. Avoid line crossings and line interruptions!
- Although dotting and hatching are visually easy to distinguish, they are not by touching.
- No Perspective Representation!
- Objects should always be presented in a straight viewpoint. Houses should only show the front elevation and not an additional side elevation. Animals should be represented only straight from the side or from upfront, but not at an angle. If necessary, more than one display can be offered, e.g. elevation and blueprint of a building in separate reliefs.
- Objects further away must not simply be presented in a smaller scale.
- Elements should always be presented next to each other, but not one behind the other and not overlapping.
- However, perspective representation can of course be used, if you want to explain perspective representation to blind people.
- Use Strong Colours and Contrasts
Most of the visually impaired people still have residual eyesight. Therefore, tactile pictures for the blind must be designed with contrasting colours.
- Not too large!
The tactile area should not be larger than the arm length of small persons. That’s not always possible with larger objects. At least all parts of the object should be within reach of hands. If applicable, step treads might help.
Lettering should be printed in Braille and large contrasting letters, readable for visually impaired people. Braille and black print should be arranged next to each other. That simplifies the communication between blind and sighted about the texts.
Letters however should not negatively impact the tactile exploration of the pictures. Arrows can complicate the recognition of the pictures. If applicable, abbreviations or short explanations can be used.
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