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Palmer Museum Educator Shares Museum Experience with Blind and Visually Impaired Summer Camp Students

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Dana giving tour

Dana Carlisle Kletchka, curator of education at the Palmer Museum of Art and affiliate assistant professor of art education in the School of Visual Arts, has created and conducted a variety of tours of the Palmer Museum of Art over the past sixteen years. This summer, she had the opportunity to work with and lead a group of students with low or no vision through the museum for the first time, as part of the Summer Academy for Students Who are Blind or Visually Impaired: Enhancing Independence Skills for Students Transitioning to Post-Secondary Education. The academy, which partnered with Penn State in 2014, provides students with a three-week residential college preparation experience on the University Park campus.

“They contacted me about using the museum’s iBeacons to guide students through the museum using adaptive technology. After I met with Summer Academy staff in person, we decided that a hands-on, tailored experience would be more appropriate to engage the students with art,” explained Carlisle Kletchka. “We worked with the registrar, Beverly Sutley, to identify appropriate objects and provide students with gloves for a three-dimensional experience that allowed them to touch works of art and describe them to each other.”

Carlisle Kletchka then led students through the museum with her voice and described the works of art, which they discussed as a group, focusing on works that interested them.

“I’m not going to lie. At first, I was a little nervous for their safety and the objects, but they were hyper-aware of their surroundings. They were also incredibly attentive, which is fantastic for a guide. They were some of the coolest, most engaging students I’ve toured,” she added.

The students also met Penelope Van Grinesven, M.F.A. candidate in ceramics. She shared her Hans Coper replication project with them, which consists of a replica of a work of art in a box that they could touch and describe. Aaron Knochel, assistant professor of art education, and Wen-Hsia Hsiao, a graduate student in art education, also attended to learn about museum accessibility for patrons with blindness or low vision.

Carlisle Kletchka said the Palmer Museum of Art is looking forward to hosting the group again next year. She described the visit as a “pedagogical treasure one doesn’t get often,” and she is already thinking about ways to connect a broader audience to the museum.

“Sharing the museum with these students was a special and personal experience for me because my father has been blind since I was 12,” admitted Carlisle Kletchka. “Having gone through museums with my dad, I saw how important it was for him. Usually, visually impaired visitors do bring a guide with them, and we don’t get to interact in this way. The Summer Academy was so rewarding because we got to serve a public that we are often not asked to serve. I didn’t expect it to be one of the pinnacles of my career, but it was.”

For more information on the camp, read the Penn State News article: