Dear Sam,
it's brilliant that your museum plans to provide audio information and description simultaneously with tactile models - for in essence, it's the only way to use tactile models and images meaningfully. Unfortunately there are too many examples which fail to build on this basic premise.
One will find tactile models and images without any accompanying information. There are also examples of tactile images which provide information in braille alongside tactile images. This looks good at first sight, but doesn't allow the visually impaired user to take in the accompanying information at the same time as exploring the tactile picture. And it's not always the case, that this information has been purposefully designed to be an aid to the exploration of the tactile picture.
As most visually impaired people have no or little prior experience of using tactile images before coming to a museum, this can create yet additional diffculty in reading the images and can easily put one off - when the mildly anticipated hope of having of good experience turns into a chore. The Louvre and the French Science Museum are among the very few to address this head-on and provide introductory sessions for using tactile images.  
Tactile models are infinitely easier to explore than tactile images and, well produced (which always means highly simplified to the point of drawing out the essential features - which makes this a creative process), they provide a great deal more information. Some key considerations here:
- are the models for permanent display or used in strucured learning activities. The latter will often allow a great deal more opportunities for interactive approaches, such as assembling and disassembling. Many tactile models in this country, whilst excellent and simple - such as those build in many cathedrals during the eighties and nineties are also quite limited in what they allow one to do: which is to read groundplan and  volume. In France you can see models with an open roof - and immediately this allows exploring the inner spaces as well. The National Museum of Cinema in Italy launched a model for permanenet display of the Mole Antonnellina, Turin's most iconic building where there museum is located.Two walls at a corner were removed, thus providing opportuntity to explore both the outside and the inside.
It's also imporant to think of a model as an experience and interpretive aid that is part of an overall strategy of presentationa and interpretation which uses authentic objects and e.g. tactile images (for example to go into more detail, on a larger scale).           
- size: unless there are exceptional reasons, the size should not be biger than the stretched out arms of a child - to build a mental image, it's just so much easier when the model can be comprehended.

The RNIB/VocalEyes  Talking Images Report and Guide for museums, galleries and heritage sites (2003) remins very useful for planning resources for visually impaired visitoris. It shows how popular tactile models are, click 'talking images). Of the information and services visually impaired people found very helpful, the most were (in order of frequency):    


Displays and objects you can touch

Models you can touch 

Audio guides with description for visually impaired people

Live events or talks

Raised images

Another very useful - and too little known; book that takes a deeper look is "Another Eyesight; Multisensory Design in Context" pubslihed in 2005 by the Dog Rose Trust ( They have a specialism in audio production.
Re headsets: some ten years ago there were quite a few user focus group meetings about audio description in the theatre (now provided regularly in some 100 theatres - so museums are lagging behind). The majority of visually impaired audiences wanted single ear pieces, so as to be part of the atmosphere, which is integral to the theatre experience. So it was not so much about vulnerability than about being part of the enjoyment.
Some visually impaired people will prefer to have  two earpieces. Context is a factor. In some cases two earpieces will make it easier to concentrate.
About one in three older visually impaired people (who are the vast majority) have a hearing impairment. So in order to offer an inlcusive service, we should really provide technology with the option of an add-on hearing loop (usually fitted around around the neck) which enahnces sound.    
So the idea is indeed to offer choice.    
Just one more thought: we have barely began thinking of inclusive audio guides, which provide audio description as an option for all, and thereby dispense with the notion and often uneccessary reality of segrateted service.   
with best wishes,
Marcus Weisen
Insight Training - inclusive services for visually impaired people in museums, galleries and heritage sites
with first-hand experience of visual impairment.
Flat 4
57 Hilldrop Crescent
London N7 0JD
020-7609 5008
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--- Original Message -----
From: [log in to unmask] href="mailto:[log in to unmask]">Sam Groves
To: [log in to unmask] href="mailto:[log in to unmask]">[log in to unmask]
Sent: Friday, October 26, 2007 11:24 AM
Subject: Audio Handsets

Dear All,
Can anyone help me with please? We are developing interpretation for visitors with visual impairments and I have a couple of questions.
1. When using tactile models for VIPS, it seems the advice it to include audio as well to help to explain the model.
However, recent evalaution I have carried out suggests that VIPS, DON'T like headsets that cover both ears as it blocks out all other sound making then feel vulnerable.
How do we allow VIPS to listen to the audio at the same time as having their hands- free to allow them to touch the model? Has anyone else encoutered this issue with VIPS?
2. Audio guides- again, how do we offer guides without the issue of blocking out all other museum sounds? Or, is this of a lesser concern to VIPS, as they are using he guide to navigate anyway?
I am sure there are single -earpiece devices out there, but I am more interested to know if anyone has recieved similar feedback.
Many thanks in advance.
Visitor Studies Curator,
Riverside Museums Project,

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