The Braille Project at Ayala Museum

Written by Aprille P. Tijam, Senior Manager, Exhibitions and Collections, Ayala Museum (Philippines, ITP 2019)

The month of October is celebrated as Museums and Galleries Month in the Philippines. Different museums would offer a variety of programmes catering to different audiences, celebrating this year’s theme Exhibits and Reflections: Crafting Opportunities for the New World.

The printed Braille booklet for the Diorama Experience

At Ayala Museum, the Braille Project for The Diorama Experience of Philippine History was launched on October 11, as part of Ayala Museum’s celebration of the Museums and Galleries Month.  The Diorama Experience is composed of 60 miniature tableaus made of hand-carved baticuling wood.  These dioramas depict 60 highlights of Philippine history.  Each diorama was painstakingly hand-carved by woodcarvers from Paete, Laguna, known for its excellent hand-carving tradition. The diorama guidebook explains: “the diorama assembly entailed painting of the figurines and backdrops, constructing building facades, houses, or room interiors, landscaping, lighting, and carving of “props” such as pottery, furniture and weapons—all according to strict historical research.” The diorama exhibition was launched in 1974, when the Ayala Museum first opened to the public.  And fifteen dioramas have been selected to be part of the Google Art Project, forming part of its second edition launch in 2012 at the Musee d’Orsay, Paris.

To make this exhibition more accessible to persons with disabilities, one of our first steps is the Braille Project. This offers handheld booklets with braille translations of the brief descriptions written for the 60 dioramas at the Second Floor Gallery.  This will allow visually challenged guests to access the information and learn about Philippine history presented by these dioramas.  The braille booklets also contain English versions allowing companions of visually challenged guests to go through each diorama together.  For this project, Ayala Museum collaborated with Resources for the Blind.

The Braille Project for the Diorama Experience of Philippine History is one step in the incremental process of providing a more welcoming engagement and experience to persons with disabilities at Ayala Museum. This is in recognition of Article 30 – Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure, and sport, under the United Nations-Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Earlier this year, the Collections Corner: Touch the Object Program was launched during the 2023 International Museum Day celebration at Ayala Museum. It was aimed at addressing the challenge of inaccessibility of museum collections. It was a refreshed approach to connect the audience with objects from the museum collection through an up-close interaction.  This programme presented artifacts from the Ayala Museum’s collection – like the lotoan (betel nut container) and food molds; —and new objects representing some of the ethnographic materials in our care — such as the T’boli k’gal (blouse), Gaddang tapet (men’s cape), and tabungaw or kattukong (gourd hat).  The museum visitors were allowed to interact closely with these objects: touch, wear the object, feel, smell, and take photos or selfies. And educational handouts with descriptions were made available for room-use only — as a learning tool, with corresponding translations in braille format. The braille translations were Ayala Museum’s first attempt to make the information more accessible to visually challenged guests.  This programme is now a permanent offering on the Fourth Floor, adding to the visitors’ experience of the Visible Storage section.

For the braille project for the Diorama Experience, I worked closely with my colleagues Kenneth Esguerra (Senior Curator and Head of Conservation), Jo Ann Gando (Associate Manager for Graphics), Arnold Torrecampo (Associate Manager for Collections), Frankie Locsin (Exhibitions Associate), with texts edited by Tenten Mina (Curator and Head of Publications and Research) and Jei Ente (Assistant Curator).

L- R: Frankie Locsin (Exhibitions Associate), Aprille Tijam, Jo Ann Gando (Associate Manager, Graphics), and Arnold Torrecampo (Associate Manager, Collections). Photo courtesy of Jo Ann Gando.

This project was inspired by the proceedings I have read of the Museums Regional Workshop in 2016 Access in Museums in South Asia (published by the Commonwealth Association of Museums in partnership with the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum Trust, and ICOM);  the inclusive programmes spearheaded by Siddhantt Shah (ITP 2022, India); and tactile resources available at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Museo Arqueologico Nacional Madrid, and historical sites under the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

Through the braille project at the dioramas, we are optimistic that this will encourage more sight impaired guests who appreciate the use of braille translations to come and enjoy The Diorama Experience of Philippine History at Ayala Museum.