Get in Touch: Another Kind of Tour at the Tenement Museum
August 5, 2015


Many of the tours at the Tenement Museum take place in 97 Orchard Street. The Building is 152 years old and we usually ask visitors to be mindful of the peeling wallpaper, delicate doorframes and antique furniture. Most tour groups are asked to keep food, drinks and gum outside the museum. It may have caused some surprise then to see a tour of visitors touching objects in the museum with four dogs in tow. But this was no ordinary tour.

An educator prepares for the touch tour by working with the 3-D model of 97 Orchard Street.

On July 14th the Tenement Museum  held a touch tour for visitors who are blind or have low vision. The group was a total of 15 people and four guide dogs. The tour was offered in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act which was passed in 1990. This tour was slightly different from tours given on a daily basis at the Museum. Tenement Museum tours are constructed to be as accessible as possible for a wide audience. The Museum is committed to the idea of universal design for learning, planning and anticipating the needs of a wide audience. At the museum educators give tours to groups of individuals that want to visit the museum. Educators incorporate different teaching styles and methods to try to engage everyone in the group and can adapt as necessary. In this way a person who is blind or has low vision can come on any tour at the museum.  An educator can also combine these strategies with other tools such as touchable historic objects and braille transcriptions of key historic documents to enhance the experience further if a visitor requests them.

Additionally, if booked in advance and schedule permitting, the Museum can offer a brief orientation session to visitors who are blind or have low vision to orient them to the museum’s historic tenement building, 97 Orchard Street where the tours take place. With raised line drawings and a 3-D model of one floor of 97 Orchard Street, visitors can use their sense of touch to understand the building’s layout before they hear about family stories inside the building. The Tenement Museum is pleased to welcome anyone on our daily public tours but the experience is wholly different when the group is entirely comprised of visitors who are blind or have low vision.

This tour on July 14th began with visitors participating in the orientation session as a group, guided by the Education Associate for Access, Ellysheva Zeira. They used a raised line drawing of the façade of 97 Orchard to understand the framework and makeup of the building. Then the group used two 3-D models of one floor of the historic tenement to conceptualize the dimensions of an apartment and how one apartment fits into a floor where it is one of four. The group then started to use replicas of decorative elements to explore the unique hallway in 97 Orchard Street. Due to improvements made throughout the building’s residential life from 1863 through1935, the hall boasts some impressive features such as; ceramic tile floors, painted burlap on the walls, raised plaster decorations, and pressed metal ceilings. Each of these elements has been replicated for visitors who are blind or low vision so that they can experience these impressive features of the building. After the orientation the group was split in two and led through the Hard Times tour.

The tour focused on verbal descriptions and handling objects more than a public tour. Summer tours can be hot and the tour on July 14th was no exception but everyone involved had a great time. The Tenement Museum in the past offered these tours but had not done so in quite some time. Bringing back a tour of this nature for this audience was a wonderful way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and we hope to host more tours of this nature in the future.

–Posted by Ellysheva Zeira, Education Associate for Access