With a snap of his fingers, Blake Lindsay can tell you the size of a room. Lindsay, who has been blind since birth, perceives his surroundings through sound and first came to the Nasher six years ago as part of a focus group to help the museum learn how visually impaired people could better explore and understand its sculptures and spaces. One of the initiatives established from that focus group was the writing and recording of verbal descriptions about the sculptures on view, which the Nasher Education team now writes, and Lindsay—who, as a radio announcer, has a velvet timbre in his voice—records the descriptions for the Nasher phone app. He reads the verbal descriptions using speech software, memorizing and recording them one line at a time, seamlessly connecting the sentences, and then sends them to blind colleagues and asks them if they can visualize the sculpture before considering the descriptions complete. The descriptions have become an important resource for the community at Envision Dallas (formerly Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind) and any Nasher guest that might benefit from a descriptive auditory guide.
Blake Lindsay joined Nasher education staff on a crisp day last fall in anticipation of the upcoming Harry Bertoia exhibition to give insights on how sound can aid an art viewing experience.
- Lynda Wilbur, Manager of Access and Outreach Programs
I always liked echo, ever since I was a little boy. I always had my dad honk his horn in the tunnels that we would go through. So, I’ve always enjoyed coming in the Nasher and the reverb, the sense of tall ceilings, and wide-open area for the sculptures. I just feel like it’s a wide-open territory around me. It kind of gives you a feeling of freedom. It’s a good feeling. Sounds like you couldn’t run into anything.
I also love it when I can hear talking and interviews. Words really make things come alive to [the blind], and then a lot of time, sounds give us an image. But it’s just amazing, the imagination expansion I get from a sound, because I see with my ears, basically. I can stand in the middle of a room and snap my finger [snaps finger], and I can typically tell you the dimensions of the room, depending on where I’m standing. So, sound is really a lot to us. Words, sounds, bring forth color and imagination.
Sometimes, if there are little sound buffers, that can help me to get a little closure, even. Like, if there are a couple of couches in here or something to kind of buffer the sound a little bit, then that takes some of the reverb away and I’m able to become more accurate. It’s just amazing what we get out of sound and conversations. People’s descriptions of precisely how they see things make us be able to try to perceive it in the same way, so we really feel like we don’t miss out. People are always feeling sorry for blind people at first, but after talking to me for 30 minutes, they no longer do because they realize there’s so much that we can still gain out of life.
[But] I would go to art museums, and I couldn’t stand it because they wouldn’t let us touch anything, and there were no audio descriptions. And then, SMU, about a decade ago, said “Blake, we want you to come over to the Meadows Museum and kind of see what we’re doing to make it as blind-friendly as we can. And you can give us suggestions along the way.” That really thrilled me that these students were wanting to do that. And the next thing I knew, I got to come to the Nasher six years ago, and you all were determined to give us a good experience. I remember giving some feedback. My main mention was that audio descriptions would be really helpful with all your sculptures, and you almost immediately made that happen. I literally, through your description, could visualize what everybody was seeing. You gave dimensions and what the motivation was for the artist. So, all of a sudden, I have a love for art that I honestly never had had as an adult. And now, [being the voice of the Nasher verbal descriptions for the blind] has made me even more thoughtful about how bright these artists are. They have imaginations and they put it to life.
Out in the garden, I can hear a quiet highway noise and it’s not loud and consuming me at all. It’s a nice sound, actually. It sounds like you’re in the city, but it kind of sounds like you’re separated from the hustle and bustle. The traffic sound doesn’t sound monotonous and it’s not big. You can hear it, but it’s not interfering with the nice mood that you’re in out here.
There’s a little sound change in this area by the fountains, but you still can hear traffic. The main thing is the texture change under my feet—wet wood. I always think it’s nice to be pressed by plants and feel like trees are giving you a little lovin’ as you’re walking by. You can partially hear the height because of the branches above you, depending on how full the branches are. You have to be walking underneath it and the branches have to be full enough to fill that sound gap.
When you go out [to the garden], you discover you can have beauty right here, where there’s hustle and bustle going on, but you’re pretty much hidden from it, even though you’re close to it. That’s what makes it unique. You’re in the heart of Dallas.
Programming and resources serving visitors with visual impairments are made possible by the generous support of The Rosewood Foundation.
Blake Lindsay is a motivational speaker, author of Blind For a Purpose: Turning Life-Challenges into Purpose In Life, and Communications Director of Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind. He speaks on blindness and the ways in which visual descriptions of art can help visually-impaired people understand it in the same way that people with normal sight can.