“Talking Tactile Fish” : aquarium exhibit for blind/low vision under development

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RAF Models, Inc. is entering the testing phase for a new tactile exhibit system that will make aquarium exhibits accessible to those who are blind or have low vision. Once completed, the exhibits (touch-activated, tactile models of fish with an audio component where applicable) will become part of a permanent exhibit at North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.

The goal of this project is to design a user-initiated touching or exploring system that eliminates the need for buttons, switches or complex computer programs. “Blind and low vision visitors to museums, zoos, aquariums and historic sites have been significantly underserved to date,” said Georgia Minnich, Exhibits Curator at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. “This system will significantly enhance their experience.”

Supported by a three-year grant from the Department of Education’s National Institute for Disability Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), RAF Models will be gathering data over three years that will support the development of national guidelines for the design of tactile exhibits that engage all people and give the blind and low vision audience access to the exhibit information.

A working prototype exhibit is being developed specifically for aquariums, considered by many to be the most difficult type of exhibit to make accessible to the blind or low vision audience. RAF Models is working with the exhibit design personnel at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores to develop the prototype. The North Carolina Aquarium will be the test site for the final data gathering and public evaluation.

Initial testing is being conducted at North Carolina State University’s College of Design, Center for Universal Design in Raleigh, North Carolina. The blind and low-vision testing participants will be drawn from the Raleigh, North Carolina metropolitan area and the Governor Morehead School for the Blind, Raleigh.

RAF Models, Inc. has been in business for more than 25 years, designing and fabricating exhibits nationwide for the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and state and local visitor centers and historic sites. In recent years RAF Models has gained a reputation as one of the country’s leading experts in the design of accessible exhibits, especially exhibits for the growing population of people who are blind or have low vision.

The process benefits sighted individuals as well, “We design from the viewpoint of universal design so the pieces we create are not just for the blind audience but also bring information to the sighted audience,” commented Rebecca Fuller, founder and owner of RAF Models. “We find that when thinking about how to provide information for the blind, we end up also providing more information for the sighted audience.”

For a complete description of the touch activated technology central to the grant research or more information about any aspect of the grant please contact RAF Models at 336-722-4250.