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Heard Any Good Images Lately? The Art of Verbal Imaging


New York.  The New York University., Digital ID 836441, New York Public LibraryHall of Fame for Great AmericansIf a picture is worth a thousand words, then those words are priceless to people who cannot see. Verbal imaging is the art of describing pictures, art, and the world for people who are blind or have visual difficulty. For the past few years, Art Beyond Sight/Art Education for the Blind has been conducting art and craft programs at the Andrew Heiskell Library, teaching a variety of techniques to blind and visually impaired people, from sculpting to painting. And through their New York Beyond Sight project, they've been making city landmarks accessible to people who can't visually experience them.

New York City is a sprawling metropolis covering five counties known as boroughs on four land masses with thousands of landmarks and historical sites to make even the most jaded New Yorker curious. Making the city more accessible is a challenge taken up by New York Beyond Sight, which uses well-known New Yorkers to describe "their favorite works of art and culture, architecture, and city landmarks. ... politicians, actors, artists, business and community leaders use Verbal Description to make New York's visual culture accessible to all—including people with visual impairments."

According to their website, verbal description is "A way of using words to represent the visual world. It helps people who are blind or visually impaired to form mental images of what they cannot see, and provides a new perspective for people with sight." Even places you know well can feel fresh as the narratives provide details usually buried in guidebooks and encyclopedias in a conversational manner. New landmarks and locations are added regularly, so it's worth checking back every month or two to hear what's new.

In a recent program at the Andrew Heiskell Library, representatives from New York Beyond Sight introduced eager program attendees to the wonders of four landmarks: The Hall of Fame for Great Americans at the Bronx Community College campus (listen); the Chinese Scholars Garden, part of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden on Staten Island (listen); the Brooklyn Heights Promenade (listen); and Fort Williams on Governor's Island (listen).

The New York Public Library is represented, too! Listen to descriptions of the Jefferson Market Library, narrated by Deborah Glick, and the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, narrated by Paul LeClerc.

Our next Art Education for the Blind program is scheduled for June 21. Contact us at 212-206-5400 or email for more information. Along with lectures about landmarks in New York City, previous programs have included art workshops.

The technique of audio narration is also used to make films and television programs accessible, a service spearheaded by the PBS station WGBH in Boston that provides audio narration for a variety of PBS broadcasts. For many years, WGBH Home Video service sold described movies and PBS broadcasts on VHS tapes, a service that ended in 2008 when the production of movies on videotape was ended. DVD and Blu-ray versions of many popular movies also have an optional DVS track. For a list, see Described Movies.

Today, along with PBS broadcasts using audio narration, there are a number of movie theaters equipped to provide narration for blind or visually impaired patrons. The Regal chain is working to make all its theaters accessible with personal captioning and descriptive video technologies. In addition, live theater is becoming more accessible through a program run by the Theater Development Fund. lists theaters equipped with the technology and current films that have descriptive narration, while Captionfish allows users to search for accessible theaters by zip code and also lists showtimes. 

Finally, many museums offer verbal image tours or touch tours. We compiled a list of some accessible New York City museums. Some require advance registration for the tours, so you might want to call before visiting them.



Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

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