Boys in gym class at the National Institute for Education of Blind Children, Zagreb, Croatia, around 1920. From the Typhlological Museum

Case study: museum for the blind

Zeljka Sušić, 15.09.2011
The mission of the Typhlological Museum in Croatia is to raise awareness of blind people
THE TYPHLOLOGICAL MUSEUM, ZAGREB, CROATIA

The Typhlological Museum in Zagreb, Croatia, is a public institution that interprets and communicates knowledge from two fields – museology and education/rehabilitation science.

The name typhlological comes from the Greek word typhlos, meaning blind, and the mission of the museum is to raise awareness of the lives of blind and partially-sighted people.

ABOUT THE MUSEUM

The history of the museum starts in the 19th century with Vinko Bek, a typhlo-pedagogue (a teacher who works with visually-impaired children) and a great fighter for the rights of blind people. He founded the National Institute for the Education of Blind Children and was the editor of the first typhlological journals. In 1888 he started collecting items for his private collection, which he named the Croatian Blind Museum.

The museum as it exists today was founded in 1953. Many objects from Bek’s collection were donated by his daughter Marta Bek and his granddaughter Bosiljka Durst Živković.

Since 1991, the museum has come under the remit of the Ministry of Culture as the representative of the Republic of Croatia. The building is about 650 m², of which 150m² is the permanent exhibition area. The rest of the space is used for temporary exhibitions and events, and for storage.

The permanent galleries give visitors a historical overview of issues regarding blind people in Croatia, including the origins of institutional care for the blind. Visitors enter through a dark room (pictured bellow), which, as the name suggests, is pitch black, in order to stimulate their other senses.

15092011-dark-room-tyho

In here, sighted people have the opportunity to think about what it might be like to be blind and explore the space and the objects on display using touch and smell, by listening and sometimes tasting.  

One of the themes within the permanent galleries is the development of a script for the blind, which resulted in the wide adoption of Braille. The Keeping up with Time gallery shows how blind people use technology. A workshop Learn Braille Letters is incorporated into part of the exhibition.

There are also works by blind Croatian sculptors on display accompanied by films where the artists introduce their work. This display gives a positive answer to a very common question – is it possible for blind artists to express themselves through art?

ACCESS

The museum's exhibition space and the displays meet the different physical and intellectual needs of visitors:

  • Floor stripes guide visually-impaired people and visitors with learning difficulties through the exhibition area.
  • People in wheelchairs have enough space to move between the mounts.
  • Tactile maps made of tin provide basic information and orientation.
  • All labels are in Braille and are put at the appropriate height.
  • The labels are in enlarged print and there is also a magnifier available. There are audio guides available for blind and visually-impaired visitors.
  • Video presentations are supported by subtitles.
  • All text is written in clear and simple language. There are three levels of information: basic, intermediate and expert.
  • The majority of displayed objects can be touched.

COMMUNICATION

Communication is one of our main goals. The museum promotes tolerance and equality through lectures, workshops, exhibitions and other projects. We also aim to inform society about the life and difficulties of people with different disabilities.

Through the museum, we try to tackle negative attitudes towards visually-impaired people, and show what the correct attitude should be.

The museum takes an active role in the community and is a place of change. We hope that visitors leave with a new attitude towards people.

PROJECTS AND SHARING

Our most recent temporary exhibition, Photospective (16 June – 1 September 2011), celebrated the 65th anniversary of the Croatian Association of the Blind. The exhibition explained the history of the association, and looked at its present activities and some of its most important projects.

In 2010, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Croatian Guide Dog and Mobility Association. We used the occasion to introduce our visitors to the rights of guide dog users, and to highlight the differences between assistance dogs and pets. Visitors learned how to treat assistance dogs.

These projects have been done in collaboration with visually-impaired people, and it is important to accentuate this collectiveness. Future projects will continue in the same spirit and the museum will offer tours guided by a blind person.

Successful projects have had a positive impact on the museum’s staff and on our visually-impaired visitors. Through professional cooperation, we have learned from each other about the importance of listening and understanding people’s different needs, and how necessary it is to be open to new experiences and methods of work.

Furthermore, the visually-impaired people we’ve worked with have learned about museum work such as conservation.

In the future, the museum's projects will continue to connect and draw on the two "different" worlds of sighted and non-sighted people. We shall work on the removal of physical and intellectual barriers. The museum will be the meeting point where there are no "them and us" divisions.

Zeljka Sušić is the senior curator and senior museum educator at the Typhlological Museum.


LINKS

The Typhlological Museum

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