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How We Read: A Sensory History of Books for Blind People

An exhibition that explored the history of reading technologies designed for blind people, using hands-on activities, interactive workshops, and live performances.

How We Read: A Sensory History of Books for Blind People
  • School/Institute/Department: School of English and Drama
  • Subjects: Exhibitions, Assistive Technologies, Reading
  • Audience: General Public, Blind or Partially Sighted People

“How We Read: A Sensory History of Books for Blind People” was a public exhibition exploring the history of reading technologies designed for blind people over the past two centuries. The exhibition contained historic and contemporary artefacts on loan from museums, archives, and other centres with important stakes in preserving the heritage of blindness. 

'How We Read' introduced visitors to a range of reading formats beyond the conventional book whilst encouraging reflection on the ways in which different sensory modes have been privileged at certain historical moments and by changing communities of readers. Through touch, sound and sight, “How We Read” opened up the many ways in which we do something as simple as read a book.

The exhibition featured hands-on activities, interactive workshops, and live performances to engage the public. These ranged from a workshop on how to read braille to a panel discussing people’s personal experiences reading with different media. The events were designed to facilitate public participation and interaction with the exhibition. In addition, curators led descriptive tours and workshops exploring people’s knowledge of the heritage, tailored to different audiences (including visually-impaired visitors).

The exhibition ended with a live performance from “The Braille Legacy,” a musical opening next year in London that is based on the life of Louis Braille.

The project included blind and partially sighted people at every stage of the exhibition. They offered feedback, loaned items, and participated in the engagement events. Following the exhibition Matt Rubery was invited to speak about the displays and materials at the annual meeting of the National Federation of the Blind of the United Kingdom.

The exhibition materials will remain available online (http://www.howweread.co.uk/) and the demonstrations and galleries will be made available online once the films of the exhibition curators talking about exhibition items are completed.

The exhibition was funded by a Queen Mary Centre for Public Engagement Large Award. It was exhibited at the Peltz Gallery in central London as part of Being Human, the UK’s first national festival of the humanities.

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