In museums all over the world, one rule trumps all others: look but don’t touch. But what if you can’t look? Why should being blind prevent a person from appreciating works of art that are not only masterpieces but also an important part of their country’s cultural history?

That was the question facing the Madrid’s Prado museum. The Prado has worked hard over recent years to widen access to its collections, investing in outreach programs or simply installing wheelchair ramps throughout its historic galleries. Up until now, however, blind and partially sighted people have been unable to enjoy the museum’s vast collection, which includes iconic works by Goya, El Greco and Velázquez.

The solution, the curators concluded, was not simply offering audio or braille guides, but to create elaborate 3-D replicas of key works, which visitors could touch. By inviting them to break the “no touching” rule in their new “Touching the Prado” exhibit, visually impaired visitors can at last gain some appreciation of the works on display.

Photo courtesy of the Prado

As Marina Chinchilla, the deputy director of administration at the Prado, explained: “Our ultimate goal is to open the museum to the public as widely as possible, giving as many people the chance to enjoy the artistic treasures we have in our collection, including those with no or limited sight.”

More than a year ago, then, the museum invited companies from across Spain to pitch for the project before choosing Estudios Durero, a Basque company specializing in the fine arts. What set them apart from their rivals was that, rather than using standard 3-D printing, they have developed a technique that they call “Didú,” which allows them to produce works that are both rich in texture and color.

“You have to remember that not everyone who is registered blind can see nothing at all,” said Cristina Velasco, the head designer at Estudios Durero. “Many have some at least a little vision. For this reason, we knew we had to replicate the original colors as closely as possible. This ruled normal 3-D printing out as even the most advanced 3-D printer still cannot come anywhere near reproducing the colors and shades of a masterpiece.”

While keen to keep the exact details of their process a secret, Velasco explained that it involves taking a high resolution image of a painting and then working with the blind and partially sighted members of the team to identify which details need to be emphasized to provide reference points for a blind person’s hands. For instance, the eyes of a painted figure always need to be made concave rather than convex to provide a universal reference point for blind viewers.

“Blind people think of the eyes like holes, and these give them a good starting point from which they can work outwards,” Velasco said.

Courtesy of the Prado

At the same time, the curators gave their input into which works from the extensive Prado collection were most suitable.

“If there’s too much fine detail in a painting, it would be too hard to convey this using the technology we have, and it would be too much for the reader to take in,” Velasco said. “So we had to choose paintings that were artistically significant yet not too detailed. Plus they had to be the right size. Could you imagine trying to feel your way around [Picasso’s] ‘Guernica?’”

The designers incorporated these details into a new image printed with special ink. A chemical mix was then added to the marked areas, giving them texture and volume (“just like you add yeast to bread to make it rise,” Velasco explained), and finally, the real image, complete with the original colors was printed onto this contour.

The finished exhibition features copies of six paintings, all historically significant masterpieces. These include “A Nobleman With His Hand on His Chest” by Goya, “Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan” by Velázquez and a contemporaneous copy of the “Mona Lisa.” Alongside these are braille guides and audio commentaries that also help guide visitors through what they are feeling.

So, can the clever use of textures and contours really bring a masterpiece to life this way? So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Courtesy of the Prado

“I know I’m never going to be able to see colors or experience this art the way a sighted person can, but this is still a major step forward,” said Rocio Fernandez, one of the first visitors to the exhibition.

A Madrid native, Fernandez was born blind and is only now visiting the Prado for the first time. The 3-D printed copy of the Velázquez work merits special praise as she uses both hands to read the contours.

“Yes, I can feel the texture of the skin, the short beards and even the look of surprise on the men’s mouths,” Fernandez said. “We learned all about the great Spanish artists at school, of course, but it’s only now that I can start to understand what made them special in their own unique ways. But again, I do know that I am still missing out on so much.”

However detailed the replicas done for this exhibition may be, opening visual art up to the visually impaired is still in its infancy.

“We’re constantly looking at new ways of representing skin, hair and fabric so as to give the most realistic portrayal of the original work as possible,” Velasco said. “We’re also working on representing images of different materials like metal and glass through touch.”

Plans are also in place to further expand the current exhibition to incorporate a wider sample of the Prado’s collection and to make other museums and galleries more accessible to the visually impaired.

“This project has been getting quite a bit of attention around Europe and, though I can’t say who, we are in talks with other institutions about the possibility of working with them in the future,” Velasco said. “Most curators are now determined to make art even more accessible, and now we have the technology to do it, giving blind people the chance to share this part of our culture just seems the right thing to do.”

Written by David Hewitt

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Christina, who was born blind, is a huge Chicago Blackhawks fan. Recently, the team decided to give her an unforgettable surprise.

The Blackhawks offered her the chance to come see them play the Winnipeg Jets at the United Center, CBS reported. With the help of forward Patrick Sharp, Christina got to stand on the ice and even be interviewed for the radio.

I’m so happy,” Christina shouts in the video below. “This is the best day of my life!”

Watch the touching interaction in the video below: 

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These are no ordinary holiday cards.

The Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind‘s “inBraille” line of greeting cards is just one of its revenue-making products, but it’s a meaningful one. Each card comes with written words embossed in Braille, so everyone can enjoy. And each purchase helps support an organization whose workforce is 90 percent legally blind.

When you become visually-impaired, you lose a lot of your confidence and your pride is shaken,” Linda Audain, who works at Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind, told ABC. “And when I came here and got the training… I felt like I got my swagger back.”

Watch the video below for the full story: 


Visit the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind’s retail store and website for more information.

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Thanks to a technological device, the world is a whole lot brighter for one teen.

Ben Yonnatan, 13, from Kalamazoo, Michigan, was diagnosed with retinal dystrophy last year and since then, his field of vision has dramatically narrowed, according to CBS News. Now, his range of sight is comparable to looking through a straw.

Being visually impaired is especially hard on Ben because his passion is dancing. Without the ability to see, the teen feared he would have to give up on his dream of someday being a choreographer.

Luckily, Ben’s mother had the idea to use Google Glass to expand his field of vision. Wearing the device, Ben found that his peripheral vision expanded 70 percent, allowing him to continue dancing.

To watch the world open for this kid the minute he started dancing,” Ben’s dance coach, Kyle Keiser, told CBS, “it’s like freedom emerged.”

Watch the video below to see how Google Glass helped Ben continue doing what he loves:

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Thanks to an amazing surgery and a fantastic nonprofit, two sisters from India were given the gift of sight.

Sonia and Anita, 12 and 6 respectively, were born to a family that couldn’t afford a surgery that costs $300 to restore a person’s eyesight. As one doctor in the video below notes, most people in their situation end up as beggars.

The girls were saved from that fate by 20/20/20, a nonprofit devoted to making sure this life-changing surgery is made available to those who need but cannot afford it. The procedure only takes about 15 minutes and recovery consists of just a bandage over the eyes for a few hours, according to 20/20/20’s site.

The surgery involves a small incision in the eye where a surgeon removes the defective lens that causes blindness, according to 20/20/20. The surgeon then replaces the defective lens with an artificial one that costs only about $2.

The total expense might not seem too steep, but it’s still out of the price range for the girls’ family. So 20/20/20 paid for their operations through donations.

And a camera caught the breathtaking moment when the bandages were removed and the sisters saw the world for the first time.

Take a look:

To donate to the cause, you can visit the 20/20/20 website here.

h/t National Geographic

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Photography might not seem like an ordinary profession for a man who is blind and deaf, but Brendan Borellini is anything but ordinary.

The Australian man was born with congenital deafness and partial blindness, which eventually grew into total blindness. Borellini first picked up a camera as a joke, pretending to snap pictures to get a laugh, according to an Open ABC-produced video’s description (below). However, with proper mentorship, photography soon became a full-blown passion.

Borellini’s interest began after meeting Steve Mayer-Miller. Mayer-Miller is the Artistic Director for Crossroads Arts, a local organization that specializes in bringing fine arts to people with disabilities. Together, they started taking photos with Mayer-Miller giving Borellini a little assistance in pointing the camera.

For so long, the only way Borellini could understand the work that he loved doing was by having other people describe it to him. Mayer-Miller gave him feedback on things like composition, lighting and shutter effect through the use of a device that converts text into Braille. However, it wasn’t long before both decided that this wouldn’t be enough.

“This led to researching devices that would enable a photograph, a two-dimensional photograph to become a three-dimensional photograph, and he would be able to at least interpret the textures in that photograph,” Mayer-Miller says in the video.

Thanks to the power of 3D printing, Borellini can use his hands to feel the composition and style of the photos he takes, according to

“I can recognize the elements of the image; I think it’s very impressive to be able to feel the photos I have taken,” he says, by way of a translator, in the video.

This isn’t the first time Borellini has impressed people with his talents. In 1989 he won the award for “Young Australian of the Year” when he became the first deaf and blind person to be placed into a standard high school curriculum.

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