Leading the Way

Increasing Accessibility for the Visually Impaired in Museums

Courtesy is for free. Courtesy is for you and me...” sang Mdm Wee Pek Ling, as she fondly recalled Singapore’s earlier years. She learnt the iconic jingle from the “Make Courtesy Our Way of Life” campaign back in school.

Her memory was sparked after a recent visit to the National Museum of Singapore’s special exhibition Home, Truly: Growing Up with Singapore, 1950s to the Present.

The exhibition explores the moments and experiences in Singapore’s past and present that express our national identity and collective memory as a people.

This museum experience was unlike any other for Mdm Wee and her husband, Mr Toh Ah Hock, both of whom have visual impairment.

“The museum I went to before was overseas – we couldn’t touch anything, so I had to keep as close as possible to a guide, to listen to his commentary,” shared Mr Toh.

However, the couple could explore the Home, Truly exhibition independently and freely this time around, with control over their pace and the commentary, thanks to a new smart cane feature, the first of its kind to be used in a Singapore museum.

Supported by Temasek Foundation, the smart cane experience was jointly developed by the National Heritage Board, Nanyang Polytechnic and Guide Dogs Singapore to make museum exhibits accessible to persons with visual impairment as a way to build a more inclusive society.

We wanted to ensure that the exhibition content resonated with, and was accessible to our diverse audiences from different segments of the community – including youths, seniors, and persons with disabilities," shared Ms Wong Hong Suen.

Mr Toh is seen using the smart cane that is fitted with sensors. It is paired with a web app accessible via mobile phone to provide wayfinding instructions, enabling Mdm Wee and Mr Toh to listen to the audio commentaries while navigating the museum independently.

“We thought it was important to engage the visually impaired community to ensure they too could be a part of this special exhibition, by including their experiences of home and its non-visual elements, to ensure an accessible and meaningful exhibition experience for them,” shared Ms Wong Hong Suen, Senior Deputy Project Director at the National Heritage Board.

Besides the smart cane initiative, Temasek Foundation is also supporting the museum in another similar initiative that enables children with special needs to enjoy visits to this exhibition. This programme, titled “What Makes Singapore Home?”, comprises a guided tour with a focus on family interaction and tactile experiences, with each family receiving a bag of sensory materials. A visual schedule and social story are sent out before each session for families to prepare for their visit. There is also a dedicated Quiet Room at the museum for children with special needs who might experience sensory overload to calm down in.

With Mr Toh using the smart cane, and his wife holding out the accompanying mobile phone for them to listen to the commentaries, the excited and enthused couple re-lived their younger times together hand-in-hand.

Mr Toh and Mdm Wee listening to songs at the “A Singing Singapore” exhibit.

“The smart cane is useful because we can trail along and follow the instructions to find the various places to pause and listen to the commentary near the exhibit. Pek Ling is very good with the phone!” Mr Toh commented with a laugh.

Mdm Wee chimed in enthusiastically, recalling her favourite moments of the experience, “I did enjoy going to the museum. My favourite part of the visit was listening to the songs – it reminded me of my younger days.”

As a potential solution that could be expanded to other galleries within the museum, Nanyang Polytechnic, the research partner for this project, will continue to refine the smart cane experience and improve the wayfinding solution with feedback from users over the course of the exhibition.

If the ambition of this pilot project is anything to go by, it is likely that Mdm Wee and Mr Toh will be making visits to the museum a regular pastime soon.

Watch Their Story
Play Video
Home, Truly Smart Cane Pilot Programme

The programme aims to enable people with visual impairment to access Home, Truly, an exhibition that explores elements of nation-building by the National Museum of Singapore, and pilots the use of smart cane to allow persons with disabilities to explore and navigate museum exhibitions independently.

Expected Beneficiaries:

50 visually impaired individuals

Programme Duration:

January 2021 to October 2021

Scroll to Top