Author Archives: Paul Sullivan


Ever since we started using PenFriends and Discovery Pens to give visually impaired people and others audio access to our museums in Bristol, I have wanted to find a way of doing something similar for British Sign Language users. A new app, called Signly, launched at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, could be just what I’ve been looking for.

A smartphone with the Signly app is used with stickers placed around the Museum.

“The app recognises the image on the sticker and within seconds a lively interpreter pops up and starts to sign the audio-visual material.”

You can read more here:


An afternoon with Paul and Hazel

On 10 February this year I wrote a post called Fantastic Feedback. In it I mentioned a student called Beatrice Bonheur who was thinking about doing a project on something to do with visual impairment. Later she came to my house and recorded a conversation with me and my wife, about how we perceive the world.

If you are interested you can view the video by following the link below. It lasts just over 10 minutes.


Sensory Gardens Two

Further to my last post, I got the following excellent suggestions from Laura Hilton, Visitor Services Manager, Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust:

This is something that I used to help out with in a previous role! You need to keep your historic context in mind, but there are several things you can try.

Think of the seven senses and how you might encourage people to explore them:

Sight: Flower colours and planting arrangements, Hidden items to find and explore (e.g.: fairies, gnomes and appropriate period tales or beliefs to accompany them), bird scarers appropriate to the period. Encourage people to play with sycamore seeds or similar.

Sound: Wind chimes, bird scarers appropriate to the period, water feature, encouragement to listen for insect sounds (bees, grasshoppers, etc), outdoor speakers playing period appropriate ‘garden party’ music

Smell: Scents of flowers and herbs – relate this to medicinal treatments or beliefs. Scents at other times of year – mulch and compost and how this was used to help the garden grow/what else was put on the garden – scent boxes from Dale Air in a waterproof hutch or scratch and sniff.

Taste: Edible treats. Easiest method is to pre-prepare and place out distinct tasting items such as orange segments. Can also encourage people to think about foods they have eaten which may have ingredients grown in garden.

Touch: A ‘barefoot walk’ as at Trenchard Gardens is something that is possible to achieve without removal of shoes. Think about different surface textures and the experience of walking on them. Leaf textures at different times of year – feel leaves on various plants (signed with touch symbol) or encourage stomping through dead leaves on ground.

Vestibular (movement): Taking different paths through garden with different challenges – steps, hopping from one log section to another, walking along a split trunk as a balance beam – some good examples of this at Puzzlewood.

Kinesthesia/Proprioception (body awareness): Exploring willow/hazel structures, tunnels, passages – anything that encloses in some way or creates changing light levels/darkness. Exploring balance – again with balance beams or movement exercises (moves used in any particular gentle sports or exercises practised at this time – fencing, gymnastics, tennis), anything which might rock or move in some way – such as a swing seat.

Info on sensory gardens

I recently put a request for suggestions about creating a sensory garden on the GEM list (GEM is the list for the discussion of issues in museum education in the UK).

Below are some websites that people suggested I look at:

Towse Harrison

Emma Albery

Helen Horler


Read all about it

The “How we read” exhibition that I wrote about in October 2014 is now online. It explores the history of reading technologies that have been designed for blind people over the past two centuries. Videos, photos and sound recordings are available in the “Gallery” section. If you want to know what an Optophone sounded like now is your chance.



Update on Blind Creations

Further to my post of 18 September last year, about the Blind Creations conference, the draft programme has now been published. I am scheduled to give my paper on inclusive descriptions of art works at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery on the afternoon of Tuesday 30 June.

To see the full programme and for other information about the conference follow the link below:

Fantastic Feedback

Last Thursday I met with a student from UWE called Beatrice. She is a friend of Steph at Bristol Braille Technology.

Beatrice is thinking about doing a 3rd year project on something related to visual impairment. Amongst other things we talked about my work here with Inclusive Audio and the DiscoveryPens. Afterwards she sent me the following feedback:

“I tried out the Discovery Pen after our meeting, it was interesting to explore the exhibitions with it. I especially found the French collection great to listen to, some of the speakers put so much detail and depth into their descriptions, it was almost better to listen to it and imagine than just looking at it. It definitely gave the pieces another dimension. I will be going back today to take more notes of the ways they described the things and to compare it to the written text and display.”

For Bristol Braille Technology see:


Talking about Braille …

Last night I led a session on the history of braille production for the Bristol Braillists Group. They meet every couple of months to test and give feedback on the Canute, a low-cost braille e-book reader being developed by Bristol Braille Technology.

My talk covered devices for personal braille production, rather than duplication equipment. Devices like the Perkins Brailler, the Stainsby, various hand frames and modern electronic braille note takers with refreshable braille displays

You can find out more about Bristol Braille Technology and the Canute e-reader here:

For images and short descriptions of a wide range of mechanical braillers follow this link:


Taking the long view

I have just been reading an article by Barry Ginley on the V&A’s journey to becoming accessible to disabled people. It focuses on the barriers faced by visually impaired visitors and how to remove them, but it also mentions the need for inclusive access for all visitors. It has lots of information about access solutions that work well, and some that don’t, and it stresses the importance of long term planning for access. The bits on handling objects and audio are particularly interesting.

Although the V&A is very different to Bristol Museums, there is a great deal in this article that corresponds with my own experience, and not only because its author is also blind.

You can read the article in Disability Studies Quarterly, Vol 33, No 3 (2013) by following this link: