Monday, 3 August 2009

The museum where you can see and touch

Jose demonstrates one of the models from the Tiflogico Museum in Madrid
Opened on 14 December 1992, the museum is the first in Spain designed for blind and partially sighted visitors where they can touch all the exhibits. The space is designed to be as accessible as possible with appropriate decor, lighting and layout to help people navigate the space with ease. There are tactile plans for each of the floors with braille and large print notices and there are audio descriptions as part of the displays.

The museum is divided into three areas and covers: large tactile models of famous Spanish and global architectural monuments, permanent and temporary art displays and a collection of archive equipment for people with sight loss, including early braille machinery and talking book players. I was interested to see at least two pieces of equipment with the old RNIB logo and strapline. The museum is owned by Once, the national organisation for people with sight loss in Spain. Once operates a daily lottery which funds the bulk of its work and there are examples from the archives of lottery tickets in the display. I have mixed feelings about the lottery. Yes, it employs employment for many people with sight loss who either sit in the streets or in specially designed booths to sell the tickets. However I worry that this provision is preventing people from pursuing other work options and that it creates a stereotype in the minds of the general public in terms of what people with sight loss can do.

I visited the museum with a young blind man, Jose, who is 27 years old and seeking work as a stenographer. He has recently taken his public exams and is waiting to hear if he has gained employment. Bright and articulate, he is desperate to work. He has studied hard and has to wait at least another six weeks for his results. I met Jose at an English Speaking meet up group that I attend on Friday evenings. He is completely blind and we became firm friends when he discovered that my connections to RNIB and he invited me to visit the museum with him as a guide.
I enjoyed my visit and especially liked the Spanish monuments. Each model has been made in a variety of styles and materials and it is good to be able to get an idea of the scale of the various cathedrals and cities including the Alhambra in Granada, the city of Toledo, the cathedrals of Burgos and Santiago de Compostela and so much more! The craftmentship of each model is evident and the artistry of interpretation of buildings such as the Sagrada Familia is impressive. I was less impressed with the models of the Statue of Liberty and London's Tower Bridge I am afraid. I also enjoyed the sculptures and other artworks on display. They are all well lit and beautifully presented.

I met Estrella, who was the guide for the day, and we had a good conversation about the role of the museum and its impact. Once offers a service to other museums to help them improve the accessibility of their collections to people with sight loss and the Reina Sofia in Madrid has been particularly keen to work in partnership in this area. Estrella is an art historian and was able to tell me about other museums and galleries in Europe that have similar collections to Madrid, if on a smaller scale. The museum is providing an exemplar experience for people with sight loss and promotes the exhibition and interpretation of work by blind and partially sighted artists in a way that we can all learn from. This small museum is an interesting way to spend a few hours out of the sun on a visit to Madrid.


  1. Interesting post.

    Debbie, this is a great idea and I'd love to feel those Spanish monuments myself. I do wish Joseph all the very best in his job-search.

    I'm glad you are still in Spain. I've just heard I can join a Vaughantown project in Castile-Leon starting on October 13th. It's about helping Spanish teachers with English in schools and lasts for two months.

    The intial deal is the same as for the weekly programme - an overnight stay in Madrid with a free Tapas party. I'm hoping we can meet up then and perhaps later on, depending where I'm posted.

    Look forward to hearing from you.

  2. Hi Sheila

    That is interesting about the school project. There is a lot of funding around at the moment for getting teachers into Spanish schools so I am not surprised that Vaughan have got into that area!It will be interesting to hear more about what you will be doing when you have time.

    We must definitely meet up and I promise not to get you lost in soutn Madrid! I


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