{Croatia} Tifloloski Muzej Zagreb

February 2, 2015

Croatia

As you may know, I love checking out museums that are a little off the beaten track. So when I visited Zagreb a couple of years ago, as well as stopping off at the infamous Museum of Broken Relationships, I also went to check out the lesser known Typhlological Museum.

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Typhlology is the scientific study of blindness. According to the museum, there are over 161 million people in the world who are visually impaired, 37 million of which are blind. More than 90% of them live in developing countries, and more than 75% of cases could be avoided with preventative care and treatment. The museum’s mission is “to introduce the social community to the world of those who are visually impaired and in this way foster harmonious and tolerant relations between people”. This means both raising awareness among visitors of how visually impaired people experience their surroundings and overcome difficulties in every day life, as well as making it possible for those in the community who themselves are visually impaired to participate equally in community activities. The museum itself includes text panels in Braille, and guiding strips along the floor.

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Your visit to the museum starts off in the ‘Dark Room’, where you can experience, though simulation, what it means not to be able to see. You can either face the challenge of navigating the room in complete darkness without any help at all, or you can opt for a guide and instructions for completing a few simple tasks. For me, it was a very humbling experience. After exiting the Dark Room, touch screen stations enable visitors to learn more e.g. about the sense of sight, the anatomy of the eye, the communication between optic nerves and the brain, eye diseases, and colour perception. Did you know there are in fact three types of colour blindness?

The historical background about educational provision and care for visually impaired people is covered in the ‘Origins of Institutional Care for the Blind’: from blind children being sent from Croatia to Vienna in the early 19th century to attend specialised school there, to an increased focus on the education of blind people in Croatia itself, leading up to the opening of the National Institute for Education of Blind Children in Zagreb in 1895. Visitors then learn more about everyday life at the Institute, e.g. an extract from the house rules: “Visitors are not allowed to inquire children about blindness or show pity in front of them.” The exhibit includes many photos, tactile drawings of the Institute’s floor plans and other key images, and a documentary film.

One area I found particularly interesting, was the exhibit about the development of tactile alphabets for the blind, e.g. quipu, a system of ropes with knots used by the Inca culture – later, in the early 19th century, a knot script based on quipu was created in blind people’s asylums in Great Britain. Other featured systems include embossed line letters, string writing, and the Moon alphabet, a series of embossed shapes which partly letters of the Latin alphabet or other simplified shapes. And, of course, the Braille. You can have a go at learning the Braille alphabet and writing your name using a special typing machine. Following on from that, is a look at how modern computer technology can be adapted to the needs of people with impaired vision.

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The museum tour concludes with a display of artworks by blind artists and sculptors, which aims to show how they are inspired and guided, and to challenge people’s preconceptions and unfounded biases about the artistic abilities of blind people. According to the museum, the artworks “should be approached to and enjoyed in as work of art, not only a miraculous expression of skill”.

The Typhlological Museum (Tifloloski Muzej) is open Mondays to Fridays. Up-to-date information on opening times, admission charges and special temporary exhibitions can be found in English on the museum website.

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