Audio description at a museum, park, or exhibit is not the same as an audio tour or a docent-lead tour. Audio description has a different focus: describing the actual object, rather than addressing its creator or history, for example. A true audio description tour of a museum would actually assist in leading you from exhibit to exhibit, and the emphasis would be on size, shape, color, texture, detail. If you are lucky, you will be allowed to touch some of the objects on display, but you should not expect this accommodation.
For an example of museum description, see our page on Audio Description of a Museum Painting.
Not many museums or parks offer audio described tours. Here are the ones we know about. Unless mentioned, there is no assurance these tours are any different from regular audio tours, but they have been reported by patrons who are blind. Let us know about ones in your area so we can list them! UPDATED MAY 2016 -- THANK YOU, CONTRIBUTORS!
Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure (as well as Disney World in Florida - see Florida) offer an audio description "Handheld Device" (that's the official name) for select attractions and shows. A $25 refundable deposit is required to borrow the equipment from Guest Relations. Read the 2015 Webmaster Comments under Florida. View an article in the Orange County Register. Read an article about July 2011 additions. Read the official Disneyland Services for Guests with Visual Disabilities page. The same device is available in Florida at Disney World. See additional article references under Florida.
The Getty Center - Los Angeles; GettyGuide multimedia players are free of charge at the pickup desk and contain a "visual descriptions audio tour." Apr '16
The Getty Villa - Pacific Palisades; The GettyGuide multimedia player is free in the Atrium but does not have a specific audio description tour; a 20th-century replica of Venus is available to touch at the end of the Outer Peristyle, and explanatory labels are provided in braille; "Handling Sessions" are available when planned with the museum in advance. Apr '16
Golden Gate National Recreation Area - San Francisco, 415-561-4700
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Their website says, "Tours [for visitors with special needs] must be arranged at least three weeks in advance and depend on availability of LACMA's trained art docents. Please call 323-857-6109 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information." May '16
The International Spy Museum offers an audio described tour.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (aka The Kennedy Center) will provide audio description for most of its performances if requested at least three weeks in advance.
The National Gallery of Art: Audio tours providing vivid descriptions of works of art are conducted by Picture This on the fourth Wednesdays and Saturdays of each month starting at 1:00 PM in the rotunda of the gallery's West Building. The tours last about an hour.
The Smithsonian museums have limited audio description available in the form of information specialists and docents. Ask at the information desk. Films have description, but you need to request earphones. Specific museum accessible information call-in numbers follow:
African Arts: 202.633.4600
Air and Space Museum – Both Locations: 202.633.1000 (Request 3 weeks in advance)
Anacostia Museum: 202.633.1000 (follow the prompts)
Arts and Industry: 202.633.1000 (follow the prompts)
Freer Gallery: 202.633.4880
Hirshhorn Museum: 202.633.1000 (follow the prompts)
Museum of American History: 202.633.1000 (follow the prompts)
Museum of Natural History: 202.633.1000 (follow the prompts)
National Museum of the American Indian: 202.633.1000 (follow the prompts)
National Portrait Gallery: 202.633.8300 (Portrait Insight Tours every second Thursday at noon: verbal descriptions and tactile objects; calendar) Apr '16
National Postal Museum: 202.633.2991
National Zoo: 202.633.2922
Sackler Gallery: 202.633.4800
Smithsonian Castle: 202.633.1000 (follow the prompts)
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum will provide a special guided tour for blind and visually impaired visitors upon request.
The George Washington Memorial Parkway has wayside signs with tactile elements and some audio components. If you wish to experience a tour with audio components, contact the park ahead of time. Mar '16
The White House offers an audio tour, which features welcoming remarks from Mrs. Obama followed by a room-by-room audio description of the highlights and features of the White House. The audio tour must be requested at the time the tour reservation is made through a member of Congress, at least 21 days in advance. Read the Press Release!
Walt Disney World (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom) is offering an audio description "Handheld Device" (that's the official name) for select attractions and shows. (See photo above under California). A $25 refundable deposit is required to borrow the equipment from Guest Relations, and you must borrow the device separately at each park from the Guest Relations office just inside the entrance gate on the left (except for EPCOT, where it is located beyond Spaceship Earth, and there is no Guest Relations office at the rear entrance to EPCOT). Read the original Disney announcement, or read the WGBH Media Access announcement, or view an article in the Orlando Sentinel, or read a 2013 blog post entitled Using Disney’s Handheld Device for Audio Description, or view and hear a video of the Haunted Mansion overlaid with the audio from the Handheld Device, or read and view more information about the device and its technology. And here is the official Disney World Services for Guests with Visual Disabilities page.
Webmaster Comments: Be sure you set your expectations for this device with the Guest Relations staff! If you have a sighted person with you, make sure you get a copy of the 2-page handout describing the device and listing which attractions feature description. Also make sure you understand WHEN you have to push a button to get description and when it is supposed to occur automatically. These devices are getting old (introduced in 2009, feature-updated in early 2012) and are subject to hardware failures too. While a 3rd generation model is in the works, as of April 2016 no implementation date is available. When they work, they are great, but sometimes they fail.
The Arizona Memorial offers sighted guide assistance and includes a special unit that can be borrowed to assisted blind users enjoy the tour. The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum offers audio self tours (no hands on), but they are not safe for a blind person alone.
The Henry Ford (multiple buildings) offer some limited accessibility services for visitors with vision impairment. See "Accessibility" on the referenced web page. May '16
The Mob Museum, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement located in Las Vegas, offers described tours on request.
The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History has had docents trained to give tours to patrons who are blind.
In New York City, most of the major museums offer monthly programs oriented to people who are blind. Art Education for the Blind's Art Beyond Sight is very influential and active in organizing these programs and working with other museums. Contact individual museums for program information.
An accessible tour is available at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. It is available online for downloading or via a handheld device at the museum. Contact Emmanual at 646-583-3419 for details. Three weeks notice is requested for guided personal tours. Mar '16
Whitney Verbal Description and Touch Tours: As the preeminent institution devoted to the art of the United States, the Whitney Museum of American Art presents the full range of twentieth-century and contemporary American art, with a special focus on works by living artists. Explore the Whitney's permanent collection or special exhibitions with a highly skilled museum educator trained to provide vivid, detailed description of the works on display. Visitors are also able to experience a selection of works through touch. Whitney Verbal Description and Touch Tours provide an opportunity for visitors who are blind or have low vision to experience the richness and diversity of twentieth- and twenty-first-century American art. These ninety minute tours are free and are held monthly as well as by request with three weeks advance notice. To place a request, inquire about the next scheduled tour, or sign up for our email list, please contact Whitney at email@example.com or (212) 570-7789. The Whitney Museum is located at 945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street.
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park offers 13 hours of audio description in both English and Spanish via a handheld device. Mar '16
Other sites of interest would include the Statue of Liberty (which has audio tours) and the African Burial Ground, a National Monument, which has "an audio component for the sight and/or hearing impaired." Mar '16
The NC Museum of Art offers audio described touch tours by a specially trained docent. The tour includes touching certain exhibits with gloves. Arrange the tour in advance by calling 919-839-6262. Some statues sponsored by the City of Raleigh Arts Commission have an audio description tour online. Visit Arts Access for possible other opportunities.
The Cleveland Museum of Art: Specially designed tours for visually impaired visitors are offered by prior arrangement. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Groups that include individuals with vision impairments might also wish to inquire about scheduling an Art To Go session on site at the museum. Contact email@example.com to inquire. Art-to-Go programs allows visitors to handle and hear about actual works of art. Free for persons with visual impairment only; fee is $75 per group for others or $100 if program travels to you. Register two weeks in advance minimum for Art-to-Go at https://cmaweb10.clevelandart.org/cgi-bin/Education.py; not all dates may be available.
The Franklin Institute can provide a staff member to tour the exhibition with you to describe artifacts; call at least one week in advance to arrange.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art offers multiple accommodations for people with visual impairments, from Braille signs to free audio tours; but they also offer personalized tours including tactile tours (plus tactile interpretations of paintings) when arranged in advance. Their "accessibility" page is quite extensive and a good model for others. May '16
At the time of this writing, the tour has not been finalized, but expect an audio described tour of the facility at Cowpens National Battlefield, a Revolutionary War battleground in Gaffney, SC, sometime in 2015.
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo offers live audio description.
The Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University offers multimodal programming with raised-line, tactile drawings; touch tours; descriptions of the art work; low vision optical aids; Braille and large print; and sighted guides and interpreters to accommodate the needs of visitors with disabilities. Contact Dr. Carmen Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org, 214-768-4677.
Museum of Fine Arts Houston. "Art Beyond Sight" - Trained gallery educators use verbal descriptions and hands-on materials to engage participants (check schedule for dates). Also, with at least two weeks' notice, you may request gallery educators who are trained as sighted guides to enhance the museum experience for blind or partially sighted visitors.
Space Center Houston will waive the audio tour fee for visitors who are visually impaired; however, the audio tour is not specifically designed for visitors who are visually impaired. Mar '16
The Seattle Art Museum offers monthly audio description docent-led tours. They also have electronic Audio Guides for special exhibits. Other museums in the area which have occasionally offered audio description are Museum of Flight, Bellevue Art Museum, and Pacific Science Center. For more information, contact Vision Loss Connections at 206-282-3913.
Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, Wisconsin. Art Beyond Sight, for individuals with no or low vision, provides a multisensory exploration of the visual arts - offered quarterly during each exhibition. Since 2006, the Museum has included verbal descriptions, tactile artworks, raised-line drawings, sound effects, scents, and/or tastes in these free Art Beyond Sight programs that often feature interaction with artists in residence. Audio tours available, free, on iPod touch devices that offer artist interviews and audio interpretations of selected artworks from each changing exhibition and from the Museum's collection.