What Are We Up To?

Last week's post covers events through Thursday, August 8, and the August program page takes you to the end of the month (which will come sooner than we think).

New Developments in Accessibility

As part of our 21st Century Museums Initiative, we met in January with staff from the Dept. of Labor and Industry's Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BBVS). We wanted to explore ways that we could partner to improve accessibility at our Trails of History sites for people who are blind or have low vision. BBVS staff were enthusiastic and offered to do some site visits to provide us with specific suggestions. A team visited Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum in May, and we have a visit to the Pennsylvania Military Museum tentatively scheduled for later this month. BBVS also told us about Aira, an app that uses artificial intelligence and augmented reality to remotely assist people who are blind or low vision with everyday tasks. Aira "explorers" subscribe to the service, which connects them to professional agents who provide audio description of whatever their smartphone or smart glasses camera is pointed at. When we talked to the folks at Aira, we learned that destinations (stores, museums, etc.) can also subscribe and allow explorers to visit their locations without using up their subscription minutes. The Smithsonian Institution had just launched as an Aira location, so we talked with the accessibility coordinator to get her experience.

Woman with guide dog talks with man in exhibit gallery at Erie Maritime Museum
Shelley Rhodes, Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, her guide dog, Humphrey, and museum guide Chuck Lehr explore the Erie Maritime Museum using the Aira app (photo Natalie Ditzler)
We decided to create a pilot project for Aira (see PHMC press release) and selected six sites: Erie Maritime Museum and U.S. Brig Niagara, Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum, Old Economy Village, Pennsylvania Military Museum, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, and The State Museum of Pennsylvania. We worked with Aira to geo-fence each site so that explorers could use the service for free while visiting. The service went "live" on June 1, and we are gradually learning about the kinds of information we need to provide for the agents. The Erie Maritime Museum, especially staffer Natalie Ditzler, has been proactive in working with the Erie BBVS, where the staff has been very generous with their time and expertise. Several staff members have tested Aira in the galleries and provided the rest of us with useful insights. Shelley Rhodes, a vision rehabilitation therapist in the Erie BBVS office who is blind, said she found Aira easy to use and enjoyed exploring the exhibits - "One of the hardest things I had to accept about my vision loss was that I could not see art and artifacts any longer with my eyes. But with apps like Aira I can explore things in a new and exciting way." She also noted that she was able to browse in the museum store, with the Aira agent describing items or reading book titles. In addition to helping us test Aira, staff from the Erie BBVS office also returned to the museum to provide some training for guides on how to create the best visitor experience for people who are blind or low vision. That information will also be shared with the other pilot sites. Stay tuned.

Learning about Marine Archaeology

Students around a table with worksheets and other papers
Students learn about charting shipwrecks with Erie Maritime Museum educator Chuck Johnson (in maroon shirt) (photo by Marcus Masternak)
Trailheads Erie correspondent, Linda Bolla, reports that "Erie Maritime Museum Educator Chuck Johnson is taking summertime opportunities to roll out a Museum Archaeology Lab, piloting the activities for the museum’s 2019-2020 school field trip schedule during Flagship Niagara League’s Tall Ship Summer Camp. Among other goals, the program will help students develop observational skills and apply math concepts through activities such as locating and charting objects. While the activities meet several Pennsylvania Core Standards, the Lab meets the campers’ most important criteria – fun!"

Table with pieces of wood, tin cup and plate, and coins to simulate shipwreck debris field
Two students next to debris field table ruler and worksheet, one student is wearing latex gloves
Top photo shows the simulated shipwreck debris field (photo Linda Bolla)
Bottom photo shows students learning how to measure and chart the debris field (photo Marcus Masternak)

Wrapping Up July

Vietnam era military encampment with tents and jeep, people in uniform
Vietnam Revisited event at PA Military Museum, July 20-21 (via Facebook)
Just to recap late July a bit, the photo above is from the Pennsylvania Military Museum's 2019 Vietnam Revisited event, which took place July 20-21 (more photos in the Facebook album for the program). Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum's Civil War Days was held the same weekend. Lancaster Online covered the event and posted a gallery of photos with their article. Photographer Jennifer MacNeill's photos of the cavalry demo are on her Facebook page. MacNeill regularly photographs events at Landis Valley; her portfolio also includes other Lancaster County scenes and numerous photos of horses and the people who love them (you can find one of her horse photos, Back Scratch, in the current Art of the State exhibit at The State Museum of Pennsylvania).


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