Arts become more accessible for disabled

— Dennis Sparacino's fingers glide over the cold bronze toes, curve up and around the muscular torso and dip into the crater at the top of the sculpture.

A "touch tour" allows him to experience, in the only way he can, a cast of the "Headless Naked Figure Study for Balzac" that Auguste Rodin crafted in 1896.

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AP Photo

Dennis Sparacino's hands scan the surface of a braille-like printout of Auguste Rodin's sculpture "Monument to Balzac." Sparacino, who is blind, was demonstrating techniques used in a new program for the visually impaired.

Sparacino is not the usual patron of the New York State Museum. He is blind.

He once settled for friends' descriptions of museum artworks � "I could hear their oohs and aahs and that helped," he said. Now, he said, "I'm informed and I'm part of the accepted circle as opposed to being a wallflower."

The recent tour that enabled Sparacino to grapple with sculptures � his hands wrapped in protective plastic gloves � is one way arts groups have boosted opportunities for disabled people to experience artifacts and other treasures.

The 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act raised the expectations of arts organizations and made them look for ways to accommodate disabled arts supporters, said Stanley Eichner, litigation director at the Disability Law Center in Boston.

The state museum offers touch tours for its current exhibit, "Figure and Form, Rodin to Matisse: Sculpture and Works on Paper From the Museum of Modern Art."

But despite the Albany exhibit, it can be tough finding multimedia arts presentations for adults living outside cultural meccas.

Museums though, many of which have suffered declining attendance, are finding that they benefit by attracting this previously ignored audience.

"These places prided themselves on being open to the community at large and they have become more aware," Eichner said.

The same touch tours now at the state museum have been available at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City since 1972. Now that some of its pieces are on loan in Albany, the state museum asked MoMA staff to provide training and resources for the specialized tours.

The state museum has allowed blind visitors to touch folk art pieces in previous years, but has never had such iconic images available for the visually impaired.

The touch tours begin with a discussion of the works and are supplemented by two-dimensional "tactile diagrams" of the pieces. The diagrams on chemically coated paper have raised black rubbery lines and dots to represent different patterns.

They provide a compact impression of the artwork that is helpful when feeling pieces too large to reach around. Tour guides also describe the artwork.

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