Oct 23, 2017 | By Tess

The Virginia Historical Society (VHS), a Richmond-based museum dedicated to Virginia’s history, has recently embraced 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies to give their visually impaired visitors a more dynamic and thorough experience.

3D scanning General E. Lee's life mask at the VHS

Through a collaboration with the Virtual Curation Laboratory in Virginia, the VHS has 3D scanned a number of artefacts, including items from the U.S. Civil War, and 3D printed tactile replicas of them so that blind people can feel their way through the museum’s collection.

The effort is part of a growing trend for museums and other historical and art institutions to cater to the visually impaired. As most museum-going experiences depend on sight—and especially because most art pieces and artefacts are kept behind glass—they do not offer people with either limited or no sight very much.

By 3D printing replicas of certain items, the visually impaired visitors can get a sense of what the object is by feeling and holding them. Of course, the 3D printed versions do not always capture the exact texture or weight of the original artefact, but it is a step in the right direction for inclusion.

With its 3D printed objects, the VHS plans to offer a “touch tour,” through which visitors can hold and touch such pieces as a 3D printed version of General George S. Patton’s corncob pipe, a mining lamp, a canteen originally made from wood, and a life mask of General E. Lee.

Raised letters and braille help the visually impaired to identify what they are holding

Each of the 3D printed items—based on 3D scans of the originals—will be paired with a 3D printed tag that has raised lettering and braille to help the visually blind patrons identify and learn about what they are holding.

“The idea behind the touch tour is to draw [on] stuff that’s in [the museum’s] collection and things that will be used by the education staff,” said Bernard Means, a member of the Virtual Curation Laboratory at the Virginia Commonwealth University.

“The key function of touching is that you can get at the shape of the object, and in some ways the function of the object depending on what the object is,” he added.

Not only improving accessibility in the museum, Means says that 3D scanning and printing technologies will make museums more available virtually as well. By sharing 3D scan files of artefacts online, visitors with disabilities who may not be able to visit the museum easily can see its contents in detail and even 3D print them out themselves.

“The other goal for this project is to make digital models available online,” Means told Newsweek. “So if they have access to a 3D printer, they’ll be able to print these. It’s part of expanding their educational aims.”

3D scanning of a Native American artefact

(Images: Bernard Means / Virtual Curation Laboratory)

In addition to working with the VHS, the Virtual Curation Laboratory is also working with the Virginia Museum of Natural History, to 3D print things like fossils and WWII artefacts, as well as the Philadelphia Constitution Center, for which Means helped to create a 3D printed tactile version of the American Constitution.

The lab has also worked with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Legacy Program to 3D scan and digitally preserve a number of Native American artefacts. You can see a number of other 3D scanned historical objects on the VCL’s blog here.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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