2022 marked 20 years of the Visually Impaired Programme at the National Galleries of Scotland!
Beginning as a small-scale pilot in 2002, its aim was to create an opportunity for blind and partially sighted people to enjoy art, discuss and share ideas, explore their own creativity and make social connections with others.
What is available at the galleries for blind and visually impaired visitors?
The visually impaired programme has evolved over the years and now comprises regular, free in-gallery and online activities that take place every month and a steadily growing number of audio-resources that support visitors with visual impairments to explore the galleries and collections in their own time.
Our ongoing priority is to make the whole gallery environment more accessible and inclusive. Blind and partially sighted audiences have told us they want better diversity and choice about how and when they engage with the galleries and to enjoy the same opportunity for spontaneity that exists for other visitors.
Live and Online sessions
Our live, in-gallery sessions are full day experiences. In the morning, specialist artists lead a conversational, descriptive tour in the gallery space, that, wherever possible, will include the opportunity to touch artworks. The afternoon is taken up with a practical art-making workshop that offers the chance to explore creative responses to artworks that have been discussed on the tour and to try out techniques and ideas in a hands-on way.
‘We are all really lucky that these workshops are available, and they are a highlight for my month’
‘One participant commented the sessions had opened him up to art and made him feel things he hadn’t expected.’
Focus group discussion
‘Zoom sessions are always enjoyable and good to keep in contact with people and it is really good that other people can join from across the UK’
Our online sessions take place via Zoom. You can take part through a video call or over the telephone, making the experience open to those who do not use a computer. In these relaxed meetings we explore art through visual description and conversation. We can explore artworks that are not currently on display, discovering hidden stories in the collection. We are also able to zoom in on details in artworks and enlarge smaller objects such as portrait miniatures to make them more accessible to a visually impaired audience. We started hosting online sessions during lockdown as a way to continue making connections through art during a period when the galleries were closed, and many were feeling isolated and cut off. We found that these sessions allowed us to connect with people across Scotland and beyond. As a result, online sessions have now become a core part of the programme.
We have created a dedicated area on our website where a growing number of audio descriptive tours and talks are available to support visually impaired visitors to make the most of a visit to the gallery and to explore the nation’s art collection. These audio resources can also be accessed in-gallery through visitors’ own devices via Smartify and Soundcloud.
Who is involved?
Our friendly sessions are led by a group of artists with extensive experience in working with visually impaired audiences. Many of these artists have been involved with the programme from the beginning, in particular lead artist Juliana Capes.
Creating a better experience for blind and partially sighted people, means working directly with those with sight loss in the creation of gallery programmes and resources. Our team includes creatives with a lived experience of sight loss who develop and deliver live and online sessions for visually impaired audiences, as well as collaborating in the creation of audio-descriptive resources and staff training.
Sessions are shaped by those who take part through regular opportunities to share feedback and ideas. Participants include long-time regulars, and we are always welcoming new faces. Some are life-long art lovers, or artists in their own right, while others are exploring art after a long break or even for the first time. Everyone is welcome and above all, the sessions are fun, sociable, and supportive.
By Meg Faragher & Maro Psyrra (Communities and Access Coordinators)
Everyone is welcome at the National Galleries of Scotland.
Find out how we make our buildings, services and programmes as accessible and inclusive as possible.
Learning & Engagement contact details
If you're looking for more information on our learning programmes, please get in touch with our team who will be happy to advise and help plan your group visit.
+44 (0)131 624 6410