Equitable Access: Leveraging Multi-sensory Strategies to Engage and Empower Museum Learners of Diverse Abilities

  • Lucas Livingston (Author)

    LUCAS LIVINGSTON directs Accessibility and Lifelong Learning Programmes at the Art Institute of Chicago. He received degrees from Notre Dame and the University of Chicago in Ancient Civilization and studied Egyptology at the American University in Cairo. Livingston is also the creator and host of the Ancient Art Podcast at www.AncientArtPodcast.org and an historian and brewer of ancient beer with the historical beer brewing blog www.MorgueBrewing.com.

  • Calgary Haines-Trautman (Author)

    CALGARY HAINES-TRAUTMAN is the Youth and Family Coordinator at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine at the University of Chicago.

Identifiers (Article)


Our current museum culture embraces diverse approaches to information acquisition, empowering the visitor's voice and discovery through hands-on experience. How can emerging technologies such as 3D-printing and innovative approaches to multi-sensory learning activate museum collections of ancient objects and help cultivate a more engaging and participatory atmosphere for all audiences? This paper showcases current examples of hands-on learning and multi-sensory engagement in University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute and the Art Institute of Chicago. The Oriental Institute’s Verbal Imaging and Multi-Sensory Tours use artefact replicas in combination with detailed visual description and other sensory experiences, moving beyond visual observation to create a rich understanding of the artefacts and culture of the ancient Near East. The Art Institute of Chicago's collection of 3D-printed replicas enable hands-on tactile experiences with ancient works of art that were intended to be touched, opening different avenues for understanding and insight. Museum visitors, from reluctantly receptive traditionalists to youthful creative consumers, have embraced the diverse approaches of these institutions. Aspects of universal design ensure that learning and engagement remain accessible to all individuals, including people with disabilities such as visual impairments, autism, or dementia, who may not rely on traditional visual and auditory approaches to learning. The examples discussed here demonstrate, however, that approaches and accommodations made for people with disabilities are invariably beneficial for and appealing to a general audience.