UH Partners with Museum of Fine Arts, Houston on Accessible Tours for the Hearing Impaired


The American Sign Language Interpreting (ASLI) Program at the UH College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) is proud to join forces with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) in creating an accessible museum experience for visitors in need of sign-language interpreters. On Saturday, March 30, seniors in the ASLI undergraduate program will volunteer at the museum, serving as interpreters for docent-led tours. ASLI Undergraduate Program Coordinator Sharon G. Hill has been instrumental in making this groundbreaking accessibility effort a reality.

“As it stands, if a deaf person wishes to attend an event or take an official docent-led tour, a special request would have to be submitted well in advance,” Hill said. “The museum does not have a docent who is fluent in American Sign Language. Last fall, I began meeting with representatives from the MFAH to plan an event targeting the deaf community. Art, being accessible visually, is the perfect medium to approach this community. With significant planning, we have agreed to coordinate an event on March 30 to coincide with the Van Gogh exhibit on display.”

The MFAH invites guests to celebrate Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday and “solve an art mystery” by collecting clues from docents and ASL student interpreters. Some interpreters will be paired with docents, while others will be stationed in designated locations near selected pieces of art. Upon arriving, members of the deaf community will receive a special map of these stations so that they can receive information about the art on display as they make their way through the galleries.

“UH is committed to celebrating diversity and inclusion in a myriad of ways, and this partnership further shows the willingness of UH students to go above and beyond to do selfless work in their community” said Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “We have partnered in the past with MFAH through the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA) to celebrate Latino art and culture, and furthering our ties to the MFAH through this collaboration helps set our students up for success in their future disciplines.”

In addition to the interpreter services offered by senior-level students, junior-level students will be on hand to greet visitors and run an informational booth on deaf awareness. The entire booth experience will be conducted in sign language, creating an immersive experience for those who have never interacted with a deaf person or had to communicate without verbal or auditory input.

“The MFAH is delighted to partner with UH ASLI students to provide an engaging and accessible in-gallery experience for our visitors,” said Chelsea Shannon, senior specialist in interpretation at the MFAH. “When we were first interested in offering programming with ASL interpretation this spring, we knew that UH would be a great partner. We are excited that the interpretation students will gain valuable experience working in an art museum setting, and that our visitors – both deaf and hearing – will have the opportunity to engage with these incredible students in our galleries.”

Hill is pleased that the MFAH and the ASLI Program have made the museum more accessible than ever to the deaf community.

“It’s so exciting that the MFAH has been proactive in finding ways to increase access,” Hill said. “This is the first time the museum has ever provided ASL interpreters for a coordinated public event. We are thrilled about this collaboration, and we look forward to working with the MFAH on its many other ideas for helping the deaf community more fully experience its amazing exhibits.”

“I applaud ASLI students and faculty for working directly with the public to increase access to art,” said Dr. Antonio D. Tillis, dean of CLASS. “The MFAH is one of Houston's foremost cultural epicenters, and I am thrilled that the UH community is helping others experience all the museum has to offer.”