Organizers hope to build off Naval Museum CNIB day camp event

Naval Museum of Halifax Archivist Lisa McNiven helped the special guests explore and try on items from the museum’s collection of uniforms and clothing. CPL MITCHELL PACQUETTE

Organizers hope to build off Naval Museum CNIB day camp event

By Mikela Thoms,
Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP)

Tactile objects like medals, bells, ropes and ship models helped the blind and partially sighted visitors get a taste of the museum’s collection. CPL MITCHELL PACQUETTE

On July 25, for the first time, the Naval Museum of Halifax hosted a group of young blind and partially sighted guests from the CNIB’s Summer Fun Day Camp. The visitors learned about naval history, tried on uniforms, created ship crests, and participated in other hands-on activities with items from the museum’s collection. 

Sailor First Class (S1) Steve Happe, a member of the Halifax Region Defence Advisory Group for Persons with Disabilities (DAGPWD), and his partner Shelley Adams, helped connect the CNIB and the museum to make the event happen. They were present alongside Adams’ guide dog Rookie.

The event stemmed from S1 Happe’s idea of exposing youth connected to the CNIB to “Navy culture in a way they had never experienced before.” With Shelley being the local Community Engagement Manager for CNIB and a key organizer of the annual camp, they were able to bring the idea to fruition.

“The main focus at DAGPWD is to connect issues that affect society with the military – because we are part of society… By having this camp we can reach out to this community, open the door to them and say you are welcome here,” said S1 Happe.

He added his hope that the success of the CNIB visit could create an annual partnership, and potentially lead to similar engagements in the future involving other organizations.

While DAGPWD was instrumental in helping connect the camp and the base, museum staff including Curator Jennifer Gamble and Archivist Lisa McNiven deserve the credit for carefully planning, organizing, and hosting the activities. Adams said connecting with the Naval Museum was amazing and that “it has been fun working with Jenn and Lisa on how to make this museum more accessible.”

A highlight of the event was the interactive learning table that allowed the children to feel naval objects as they were described. Often, museum artifacts are not allowed to be touched. This highlights museums’ inaccessibility to blind or partially sighted people, Shelley added, recalling museum trips of her own in the past.

“Somebody might describe the item for you, but that’s just not the same.”

For many living with varying degrees of blindness, touching an object to visualize it is essential, she added. Not being able to feel an object limits their experience.

The Summer Fun Day Camp is offered free of charge for kids by the CNIB Nova Scotia office and funded by the Halifax Protestants Infants Foundation. The camp ran from July 25 to 29 and the Naval Museum was one of the stops for the week-long camp.  

Gamble said she was grateful to have connected with the DAGPWD and CNIB to get involved, and that the Naval Museum is now working to develop more accessible programming.

 “We are going to have our first exhibit that has braille on it, and we have started talking about developing audio tours. Even if we can’t physically change the building, we can create other ways of making the museum more accessible, which is the ultimate goal!”

As for the kids, after the Naval Museum, their week of fun continued with activities like bowling, cooking, horseback riding, and a visit to the East Peak Climbing gym.

“The kids love it and they go home exhausted, but so happy at the end of the week,” Adams said.