Friday, 6 April 2007

Access Program for the Blind - The beginning

When Chris and I went on the History of Khmer Art trip as part of the NMV we met a lovely woman called Susy (I wrote about it at the time - she is the one that got married in the same room as we did about two months after us). Well, whilst on the tour we had had a chat about the fact that tourist attractions in Thailand were not very inclusive when it came to people with disabilities and we thought it would be a great idea to put together something that would enable blind tourists to visit. After the trip Susy did some research and attempted to get some commitment from those involved in the tourist industry which didn't really go as well as she had hoped and the idea was shelved (but not forgotten).

Then late last year the NMV had a Study Group at the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum (SEACM) on shipwreck Ceramics. (The Museum was established in 2002 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Bangkok University and it houses more than 2,000 ancient and valuable ceramics most of which are from shipwrecks). During the study group, Dr Roxanna Brown the director of the Museum, said she often taught people about ceramics by blindfolding them so that they could learn through touch. Susy, who had already decided to scale down the original idea, spoke with her about the possible development of a blind access program at the NMB (National Museum Bangkok) and Dr Roxanna Brown kindly offered to facilitate a pilot session at the Ceramics Museum - Susy contacted me and asked if I would like to be involved.

So on Wednesday afternoon I met up with Susy and a couple of other volunteers, Nidhi and Margo (I knew both from the Khmer trip), and we made our way over to the Thailand Association of the Blind (TAB) to pick up Khun Monthian, Director of the TAB, (He's amazing and had only just got back from delivering a presentation to the UN in Geneva about human rights) and the three students that had agreed to be our guinea pigs (Yue, Air and Quam). Then made our way to SEACM where we met up with Barb, Chair of the NMV, and the Director and his assistant from the NMB. (The photo above from left to right - Dr Roxanne, Khun Burin, Yue, Nidhi, Air, Barb, Quam, Me, Khun Monthian). Our job was to assist the participants by guiding their hands whilst Roxanna taught them about ceramics and how to identify them. It was absolutely fantastic - everyone sat on the floor whilst the ceramics were passed around - the three girls and Khun Monthian were taught how to identify the differences between Sukhothai, Sisatchanalai and Chinese Ceramics and then were given a piece each and asked to describe to the rest of the group where it was made and why. It was the first time that they had been able to learn something about the history of their country and actually be able to touch what they were learning about. (Normally things are displayed behind glass and, when your blind, being told that it's a green pot that's over 1,000 years old doesn't really mean much). They absolutely loved it and were really excited (Quam made the comment 'I can't believe I'm touching history') - the pieces they were touching were thousands of years old. After the session we went round the museum itself and agreed that we would form an Access Program working group to discuss how to move this idea forward. We're meeting again on Monday at the NMB so that the participants can provide feedback and we can discuss how the NMB could go about implementing such a program.

It was a very humbling experience and I spent some time talking to Khun Monthian about how the BWG could get involved so I am also going to visit the TAB's adult training centre, with my volunteer co-ordinator hat on, after Songkran to identify what volunteering positions there might be. (I also learned that the TAB fund a blind school so will do more investigation into that as well).

3 comments:

  1. Go on yersel', wee yin! You're making an old man very proud.

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  2. From small beginnings... You're doing a great job. The delight on their faces says it all. Luv Katwoman

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  3. Remember the lady at the cashpoint. Do you still have her card. She had just arrived from Vietnam and was looking for this type of organisation to get involved with.

    I have no bleeding google account it's tomato by the way

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