Tactile Trip Around the World — July 7, 2018

“Don’t touch the artifacts” is pretty much rule No. 1 at any history museum. So, if you’re curious about the texture of that ancient sculpture — or if vision loss prevents you from appreciating artworks from a distance — most of the time, you’re out of luck.

Not this Saturday at the Penn Museum, which is hosting its third Tactile Trip Around the World. All visitors will be able to touch and hold replica artifacts from the museum’s Rome and Egypt collections. Visitors with visual impairments will be able to touch actual artifacts, including a 13-ton Egyptian sphinx, the largest in North America.

“All touch is damaging to artifacts,” says Kevin Schott, the museum’s education programs manager, but it poses the least threat to unpainted stone such as the sphinx. The museum limits those interactions to 200 a year during special programs like this one — and during tactile tours that anyone can schedule. Schott says granting this access specifically to those with vision loss opens up conversations that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

“Suddenly you put people with vision loss in the primary position, where they have information that others don’t. So they can tell you if it’s cool or if it’s warm, if it’s smooth or if it’s rough,” he said. With conserved artifacts that are a combination of the original material and a modern epoxy, “they can tell what is real and what is not, even though, visually, it matches completely.”

The event is open to the public, though visitors must register online in advance. Schott encourages attendees with visual impairments to reach out to him directly to talk about accommodations. Attendance is included with regular museum admission, and discounted for people with vision loss. Personal attendants accompanying visually impaired guests are admitted at no charge.

This article is part of a new effort recommending things to do in the Philly region. Tell us what you think.