Visiting the Museum of Modern Art with a Visual Impairment
Frequent readers of the VIBES blog know what a fan I am of Veronica Lewis’ blog. The large majority of her posts deal with accessible technology, but, from time-to-time, she includes other topics such as the one below. There are several sections of the original that refer to more sophisticated technologies that she uses to access the art and, because it’s unlikely that the typical reader of the VIBES blog is going to be interested or knowledgeable about these, I have chosen to not include these. If, however, you are interested, you can read the complete post at
Even though I have a vision impairment, I love going to visit art museums, and my visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City was no exception. My brother and I both spent hours looking at the gorgeous artwork, as he used his eyes and I used my ears to listen to audio descriptions of the art on display. Today, I will be sharing my visitor’s guide for visiting the Museum of Modern Art with vision impairment, inclusive of low vision and blindness.
WHAT IS THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART (MOMA)?
The Museum of Modern Art, also known as MoMA, is an art museum located in Midtown Manhattan in New York City that is dedicated to developing and collecting modern and contemporary art in various forms, from the late nineteenth century to today. Works of drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, prints, illustrated books, film, electronic media, architecture, and design are all on display inside the beautiful 53rd Street building. The museum originally opened in 1929 and features over 125,000 square feet of gallery space.
There are a few different options for getting to the Museum of Modern Art. One of these options is taking the E or M subways to Fifth Avenue/53 Street or the B, D, F, or M to 47-50 Streets/Rockefeller Center and then walking from there. It’s also possible to walk to the museum or take a taxi depending on where you are in the city. Since my brother and I didn’t feel comfortable trying to get across traffic, we used a ridesharing service to get to the museum.
The Museum of Modern Art has six floors, with floors 2-6 being dedicated to exhibits. Each floor has different exhibits separated by artistic medium, meaning all of the drawings are in one area, all of the illustrated books are in another, and similar. Paintings and sculptures take up two floors of the museum, and there is a store on the sixth floor along with a rotating selection of special exhibitions. Each floor can be accessed by stairs or by elevator and the museum is completely wheelchair accessible.
There are lots of accessibility resources available for visitors at the Museum of Modern Art, which is one of the main reasons I decided to visit.
There are Braille and large print gallery maps available for navigating around the museum. I liked having access to a large print map so that I generally knew where the exhibits were located.
. Alternatively, there are audio described tours for guests with vision impairments that are held monthly that go into more detail about specific art concepts.
My personal favorite resource was the audio tours and audio descriptions of the artwork, which I will be describing in the next section of this post.
REQUESTING AUDIO DESCRIPTION DEVICES
To request an audio description device, also known as an audio tour guide, go to the audio tour desk on the first floor, or ask at the ticket counter for more information. The device will then be configured into an accessibility mode so that it can be used with VoiceOver. Audio tour devices are free for everyone to use and while many of the descriptions are written with the blind or visionally-impaired in mind, people of all sight levels can benefit from the audio descriptions.
HOW THE DEVICE WORKS
The audio description devices are actually iPod Touch devices that are inside a protective case that can be worn around a lanyard. Users can type in a number found on the exhibit signs and listen to a 4-7 minute description of the artwork or design concept presented. There are different audio tours available, such as a tour for kids that provides more vivid descriptions and tours in foreign languages, though the only language I tested was English.
For guests who prefer to use their own devices, the MoMA Audio app has the same audio tours as the audio description devices. Just like the device, users can listen to descriptions by typing in an exhibit number or by browsing different exhibit categories. This option would be great for someone who wants to use their own headphones or who is just more comfortable with using their own device. Download the MoMA Audio app for IOS at the app store or access the tour on the MOMA website.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM DESCRIPTIONS
Descriptions include information about colors, textures, patterns, materials, and similar topics that are designed to allow the listener to be fully immersed in the art. Some exhibits also include interviews with the artists and art historians in addition to descriptions. I found the interviews to be incredibly fascinating and I was able to learn a lot about different forms of art. I was most fascinated by the descriptions of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and the description of Water Lilies by Claude Monet, who also had a vision impairment.
One of my favorite ways to view art in a museum is by using the Google Assistant camera on my Android phone to take a picture of the art. After I take the picture, Google Assistant then shows me several high-resolution images of the art that I can save on my phone and then magnify as needed. Alternatively, users can run a web search for the name of the art and find a high-resolution image in the search results.
VISITING THE MOMA WEBSITE
The MoMA website has an online collection of almost all of their pieces that anyone can access for free. I preferred to look at images on my iPad so I would have access to a larger screen and so I could use color filters to provide sharper contrast for gray and white images. Visit the online collection on the MoMA website at
I had a great time visiting the Museum of Modern Art, and I didn’t feel left out because of my vision impairment. I would dare say that I had more fun than my sighted brother, thanks to the abundant access to audio description and high-resolution images. I highly recommend visiting the Museum of Modern Art with vision impairment, and look forward to returning in the future.
If you are interested in reading how vision loss has influenced some of the world’s most famous artists, you may want to visit an earlier post of Veronica’s