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Close your eyes and open your mind. A practice-based experiment of cultural mediation for visually impaired people.

Can blind and partially sighted people exploit other sensory resources such as hearing to create mental images, even without any visual references? Is it possible to make a work of art "visible" to people with visual impairments through the use of language and narrative descriptions? If the answer is yes, which works are most accessible through language? What information and content should be favoured in constructing the account? Which aids should be used to effectively convey descriptions to people with visual impairments?
These are some of the questions that provided the framework for an experimental research project promoted by the Laboratory of Visual Culture at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI). As part of this project, the team of researchers, university professors, 75 Bachelor's students in Social Work, and eight blind and partially sighted people worked together to make the collection of 19th century sculptures and paintings preserved at the Vincenzo Vela National Museum (Ligornetto, Switzerland) accessible to all.
Each student composed a personal narrative text aimed at making "visible" a work of art in the collection, while a group of blind and partially sighted "mentors" answered their questions, providing support and precise suggestions to help them identify the most suitable solutions. Finally, the participants jointly chose a selection of fifteen texts for a collective reading in the dark. The sculptures and paintings preserved in the museum have thus literally "come to life".
Based on the results obtained in this practice-based experiment, this paper will present some theoretical reflections on the participatory and inclusive approach linked to the storytelling technique, as well as proposing interventions that could meet the needs of people with visual disabilities.
Madrid, Spain, 2019-04-02