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Saturday, October 22, 2016
Westminster Abbey launches unique Braille-guided tour
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¬†Westminster Abbey has launched a self-guided Braille Touch Tour ≠ believed to be the first guide in the UK that allows blind and partially sighted visitors complete independence within such an historic monument. Touch Tour participants will have the opportunity to touch and feel parts of the Abbey dating back nearly 1,000 years. The tour ≠ which has been endorsed by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) - allows blind and partially sighted people to use a Braille guide to guide themselves round one of the country's most famous and historic landmarks. A copy of the tour is also available in large print. For blind and partially sighted people, this represents a major step towards independence, as it allows them to take the tour alone and unguided if they wish, without the need for pre-booking or special requests. Alternatively, they can bring a friend or carer with them, or be guided by one of the Abbey's staff. Reverend Dr Jane Hedges, Canon of Westminster, hopes the project will take forward the Abbey's aims to provide better facilities and access for the disabled, while bringing the Abbey to life in a totally new way for blind and partially sighted visitors. Canon Hedges said: "This tour allows our blind and partially sighted visitors to really experience the Abbey in a unique and fulfilling way, getting close to history in a way which other historic and famous landmarks can't always offer. "We know Westminster Abbey is visually awe-inspiring, but it also has many areas which are brought alive by touch and we think this experience will be very memorable for blind and partially sighted people. The audio tour, Braille Touch Tour and the help of our vergers, marshals and volunteers combine to give blind and partially sighted visitors an unforgettable and unique experience alongside our other visitors." Ray Hazan, President of St Dunstan's, the national charity providing lifelong support and rehabilitation to blind and partially sighted ex-service personnel, was blinded in Northern Ireland in 1973. Ray 'roadtested' the tour for the Abbey and said: "Touching the monuments, the stone and the marble, and hearing the story behind their creation, is to feel the very history that created our nation. It is an emotional experience. "The Touch Tour has opened up a whole new insight into the history of the Abbey, and the history of our nation, for blind and partially sighted people." The Abbey already provides Braille literature, but is hoping this unique and pioneering Braille-guided touch tour will allow even greater access to the historic Abbey for blind and partially sighted people. Sue King, Tactile Images, Maps and Signage Consultant with RNIB, said: "This tour represents an extremely positive step forward from a visually impaired person's perspective as they can decide what they are doing themselves and are not reliant on being guided as part of a larger group. This gives them independence and allows them to take the tour at their own pace. I congratulate the Abbey on its inclusive stance." The Touch Tour takes visitors through the Abbey, starting near The Sanctuary and the Cosmati pavement, explores the Quire, through the Chapels of St Michael, St John the Baptist and St Paul, Henry VII's Chapel past the Coronation Chair, Poets' Corner, the South Quire aisle and the Nave before finishing in the West Cloister.
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