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Grand Rapids Public Museum adds new tool for blind and low visibility visitors

The museum is now an AIRA public access point.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Public Museum has taken a step to make sure they are accessible for everyone. Now, they’re an AIRA public access point, which means blind and visually impaired people can navigate the museum far easier.

The AIRA App pairs blind and low visibility users with a guide and, through the phone, they become their eyes. It’s free to sign up, and since GRPM is now a public access point, there’s no charge to the users while they explore.

One of the app's advocates is Casey Dutmer. Born legally blind, he’s had to rely on his imagination when it comes to the exhibits at the museum, but now with the app, he's got some help.

“It’s a great deal of independence," Dutmer says. "If I wanted to come down here I won't have to get one of my sighted siblings, or my sighted spouse." 

He says that freedom is a big relief. "I could come down here, tour myself, eat lunch in the café, do whatever I wanted to do here and I wouldn’t be limited by anything.”

Dutmer loves museums, so more than just lifting the burden of asking a friend, he says the app helps him get more from the experience, since the AIRA guide is there solely to assist him.

“Sighted people, when they read, they read what they want you to hear or what they think you might be interested," he says. "You miss a lot because you don’t know what they’re skipping.”

For the museum itself, the app partnership is a first step. Representatives call it a domino effect, where one added accessibility measure exposes other areas to improve that may have been overlooked.

“For example, the elevator buttons on the outside don’t have any indication or any braille of what they are," says Kate Kocienski, a GRPM spokesperson. "We’re learning through this process, for us to continue to make improvements to everyone that visits.”

Dutmer says every little bit of access, big or small, is another barrier getting knocked down.

“This gives us that kind of freedom, you can go anywhere you want.”

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