This case study lays out the theoretical foundation of a project conducted through the Smithsonian Accessibility Program to explore “sense chords”: the complex interplay of simultaneous sensory input.
In a normative understanding of the senses, each sense note is tied to a body part: noses smell, ears hear, eyes see, etc. But the smell of a rose is inseparable from the color of petals on the lips or the sound of a siren passing during the moment of inhalation. Our surroundings are always striking sense chords—although we are often unaware of what we are experiencing or how it affects us. The same is true in museums, where visuality dominates. When engaged, the “other senses” tend to be solitary notes in service of the visual.
Through considerations of accessibility for people who are blind and have low-vision, this project examines alternative approaches to the senses, wherein sight is decentered as the primary ”voice” of museums. We pose the questions: how might experiences of the disability community inform new sensory considerations and trigger new modes of engagement; what digital accessibility practices can museums employ to rebalance the senses for all people? This case study will provide an overview of the methods, the background research, and the findings to date.