Accessible Cultural Heritage Institutions for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Washington, DC

Washington, DC, the seat of the US government, is a popular tourist destination for visitors from around the world.

Many of its cultural heritage institutions make accommodations for visitors who are blind or have a visual impairment. These free visitor experiences range from daily organized tours open to the public to pre-arranged private tours for individuals or groups and self-guided virtual tours conducted online. Onsite tours often include tactile and sensory elements that allow visitors to experience artworks, artifacts, and other items through touch.

This guide provides information on free cultural institutions located in Washington, DC, and details the accessible experiences they offer to visitors who are blind or have a visual impairment. For each institution featured, the locations of the buildings and the nearest Metro stations are included. Unless noted, the phone numbers, email addresses, and websites listed are for the accessibility office of each location. The guide provides regular business hours, brief descriptions of each institution’s collections, and a list of accessible visitor offerings. No institutions that charge admissions fees are listed in this guide. This guide is not an exhaustive list of cultural institutions featuring accessible visitor experiences in the DC metropolitan area.

Institutions are described below in two categories: Smithsonian Museums and Other Sites Featuring Accessible Visitor Experiences.

The Smithsonian Institution

Washington, DC, is home to the Smithsonian Institution, the largest museum, education External, and research External complex in the world. All Smithsonian museums listed below have at least one option for blind and low-vision visitors to experience their collections. Each museum has its own accessibility office.

Below is contact information for the Smithsonian’s central accessibility office.

Access Smithsonian

PO Box 37012
NMAH 1050, MRC 607
Washington, DC 20013
202-633-2921
202-633-4353 TTY
888-783-0001 toll-free
[email protected]
https://access.si.edu External

Note on COVID Guidance for Smithsonian Visitors

Since March 11, 2022, face coverings are not required to visit museums of the Smithsonian. While not required, all visitors who feel more comfortable wearing a facemask during their visit are encouraged to do so. The Smithsonian welcomes millions of visitors each year. It encourages visitors to maintain a safe social distance of six feet or more between households and groups when possible. Visitors who wish to avoid crowds are encouraged to plan their visit during weekdays.

Note on Aira Access for Smithsonian Visitors

Aira Tech Corp is a technology company based in San Diego, California, that connects people who are blind or have low vision with professionals who provide visual information on demand. Visitors to Smithsonian museums who are blind or visually impaired have free access to Aira by logging on to the museum's Wi-Fi. Aira combines wearable devices with smartphone apps. Users connect to remote agents who assist by visually interpreting their surroundngs in a safe and secure way. Visitors can speak to an Aira agent who will help with museum navigation and describe art, artifacts, and other objects.

Smithsonian Museums by name, listed alphabetically

African American History and Culture, National Museum of

12:00 p.m. (noon) to 5:30 p.m. Mondays; 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. all other days (except December 25). Note that the museum opens at 10:00 a.m. on Mondays observed as Federal Holidays.
1400 Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20560
844-750-3012 toll-free (general museum number)
[email protected]
https://nmaahc.si.edu/visit/accessibility External

Nearest Metro stations:

Federal Triangle – Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines
Smithsonian – Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines

Free timed-entry passes are required.

Established by an Act of Congress in 2003 and opened in September 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture uses more than 36,000 artifacts to educate visitors on the history and contributions of African Americans in the United States.

Accessibility:

  • Specialized tours and descriptions of the collection to visitors with visual disabilities.
  • Aira site; users can use the Aira app to have exhibit items described to them.

African Art, National Museum of

10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (except December 25)
950 Independence Ave. SW
Washington, DC 20560
202-633-4600 (general museum number)
[email protected] (general museum email)
https://africa.si.edu/about/accessibility-and-security External

Nearest Metro stations:

Smithsonian – Blue, Orange, and Silver lines
L’Enfant Plaza – Blue, Green, Orange, Silver, and Yellow lines

The National Museum of African Art includes both modern and contemporary artworks from Africa and presents the public with a rich diversity of artistic traditions from throughout the continent.

Accessibility:

  • To request a hands-on object gallery tour, call 202-633-4646 at least two weeks prior to visit.
  • Exhibition materials in large-print formats are available on request at the information desk.

Air and Space, National Museum of

10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (except December 25)
655 Jefferson Dr. SW
Washington, DC 20565
202-633-2214
[email protected]
https://airandspace.si.edu/visit/museum-dc/visiting-tips#accessibility External

Nearest Metro station:

L’Enfant Plaza – Blue, Green, Orange, Silver, and Yellow Lines

Free timed-entry passes are required.

The National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, houses and displays key artifacts from US aviation and spaceflight history. The total collection consists of more than 60,000 artifacts, including the Wright brother’s plane, the Apollo 11 space capsule, the Hubble Telescope and the spacecraft in which John Glenn orbited Earth External. Due to the museum’s renovation, only half of the building is open, including eight newly renovated exhibitions. Please check the website for the full list of open exhibitions. The museum has another site, The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located in northern Virginia with the same hours.

Accessibility:

  • Specialized tours and descriptions of the collection to visitors with visual disabilities.
  • Aira site; users can use the Aira app to have exhibit items described to them.

American Art, Smithsonian Museum of

11:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily (except December 25)
8th and G Sts. NW
Washington, DC 20004
202-633-8550
[email protected]
https://americanart.si.edu/visit/accessibility External
https://americanart.si.edu/education/adult/verbal-description-tours External

Nearest Metro stations:

Gallery Place/Chinatown – Green, Red, and Yellow lines
Metro Center – Blue, Orange, Red, and Silver lines
Judiciary Square – Red line

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the nation’s first art museum dedicated to interpreting the American experience through artworks from the colonial era to the present. The collection includes photography, modern folk and self-taught art, African American art, Latino art, and video games. The museum also houses the Luce Foundation Center for American Art. Artists featured include David Hockney, Edward Hopper, Franz Kline, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Accessibility:

  • Specialized tours and descriptions of the collection to visitors with visual disabilities.
  • Aira site; users can use the Aira app to have exhibit items described to them.

American Indian, National Museum of

10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily (except December 25)
Fourth St. and Independence Ave. SW
Washington, DC 20560
202-633-2921
[email protected]
https://americanindian.si.edu/visit/reopening#accessibility External

Nearest Metro station:

Federal Center SW – Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines

The National Museum of the American Indian contains a rich and vast collection of artifacts, photographs, and media related to the indigenous people’s culture of the Western Hemisphere. The museum acts also as a resource for the hemisphere’s Native communities helping to preserve their present and past diversity.

Accessibility:

  • Specialized tours and descriptions of the collection to visitors with visual disabilities.
  • Aira site; users can use the Aira app to have exhibit items described to them.

Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian

11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily (except December 25)
1901 Fort Pl. SE
Washington, DC 20020
[email protected]
https://anacostia.si.edu/Visit/VisitorsWithDisabilities External

Nearest Metro station:

Anacostia – Green Line (Branch Avenue); transfer to the W2 city bus. The bus stop is located directly outside the metro station. The bus stops in front of the museum.

The museum, located at the heart of the Anacostia neighborhood in Washington, DC, gathers and interprets historical and contemporary social issues occurring on urban communities. Exhibitions programs focus on environmental changes, gentrification, employment, and cultural encounters. The museum is also the site of the Center for Environmental Justice (CEJ), which liaises the museum’s mission with social change and civic engagement for a more equitable future.

Accessibility:

  • Reservations are required for specialized tours for visitors with disabilities.

Archives of American Art – Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery

11:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily (except December 25).
The Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, 1st floor
8th and F Sts. NW
Washington, DC 20001

www.aaa.si.edu/about/the-lawrence-fleischman-gallery External

Nearest Metro station:

Gallery Place/Chinatown (9th Street exit) – Green, Red, and Yellow lines

The Archives of American Art is the world’s largest and most widely used research center dedicated to collecting and preserving the papers and primary records of the visual arts in America. The archives, founded in Detroit in 1954, stewardship an American cultural collection of more than 20 million letters, diaries, scrapbooks, manuscripts, financial records, photographs, films, and audiovisual recordings of artists, dealers, collectors, critics, scholars, museums, galleries, associations, and other art world figures. The Archives also houses the largest collection of oral histories anywhere on the subject of art.

Accessibility:

  • Follows protocols for all other Smithsonian sites.

Asian Art, National Museum of (Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery)

10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (except December 25)
1050 Independence Ave. SW
PO Box 37012, MRC 707
Washington, DC 20013-7012
202-633-5376
[email protected]
https://asia.si.edu/visit/accessibility External

Nearest Metro stations:

Smithsonian – Blue, Orange, and Silver lines
L’Enfant Plaza – Blue, Green, Orange, Silver, and Yellow lines

The National Museum of Asian Art, located on the grounds of the Smithsonian Castle, is housed in two galleries: the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The galleries’ collections contain more than 40,000 objects dating from the Neolithic period to the present and ranging from the ancient Near East to China, Japan, Korea, South and Southeast Asia, and the Islamic world. The Freer Gallery of Art also holds a significant group of American works of art from the late 19th century. Additionally, it houses the world’s largest collection of works by James McNeill Whistler, including the famed Peacock Room.

Accessibility:

  • Specialized tours and descriptions of the collection to visitors with visual disabilities.
  • Aira site; users can use the Aira app to have exhibit items described to them.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian

10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (except December 25)
Independence Ave. and 7th St.
Washington, DC 20560
202-633-1000
[email protected] (general visitor email address)
https://hirshhorn.si.edu/explore/accessibility External

Nearest Metro station:

L’Enfant Plaza – Blue, Green, Orange, Silver, and Yellow lines

Some special exhibitions require timed-entry passes.

Housed in an architecturally distinct building designed by award winning designer Gordon Bundshaft, the Hirshhorn Museum showcases the Smithsonian’s modern and contemporary art collections. Artists featured include Ralston Crawford, Ann Hamilton, David Levine, and Pablo Picasso. Currently, the Sculpture Garden is closed for renovations.

Accessibility:

  • Specialized tours and descriptions of the collection to visitors with visual disabilities.
  • Aira site; users can use the Aira app to have exhibit items described to them.

Natural History, Smithsonian National Museum of

10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (except December 25)
10th St. and Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20560
202-633-5238
[email protected]
https://naturalhistory.si.edu/visit/accessibility External

Nearest Metro stations:

Federal Triangle – Blue, Orange, and Silver lines
Smithsonian – Blue, Orange, and Silver lines

The National Museum of Natural History highlights the animals, plant life, and geology that make up the history of the Earth. Highlights include an eleven-ton elephant in the museum’s rotunda, fossils from early life on the planet, a butterfly pavilion, an insect zoo, mummies from ancient Egypt, and special exhibits featuring the natural history of other continents.

Accessibility:

  • Verbally described tours and descriptions of the collection to visitors with visual disabilities.
  • Aira site; users can use the Aira app to have exhibit items described to them.
  • Tactile objects provided at designated places throughout the Museum; tactile objects list is available in large print at Information Desks.
  • Audio descriptions for the following exhibits: The David H. Koch Hall of Fossils – Deep Time, Lights Out: Recovering Our Night Sky, and the O. Orkin Insect Zoo.

Portrait Gallery, National

11:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily (except December 25)
8th and G Sts. NW
Washington, DC 20001
202-633-8506
[email protected]
https://npg.si.edu/access External

Nearest Metro stations:

Gallery Place – Green, Red, and Yellow lines
Metro Center – Blue, Orange, Red, and Silver lines

The National Portrait Gallery’s mission is to tell American history through painting, photographs, and sculptures of people and settings unique to the story and culture of the United States. The centerpiece of the museum is the collection of paintings of US Presidents and First Ladies.

Accessibility:

  • Specialized tours and descriptions of the collection to visitors with visual disabilities.
  • Aira site; users can use the Aira app to have exhibit items described to them.

Audio Portrait Descriptions of select pieces in “America’s Presidents” exhibit. Prerecorded audio descriptions designed for people with visual disabilities accessible through the SMARTify app.

Postal Museum, National

10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (except December 25)
2 Massachusetts Ave. NE
Washington, DC 20002
202-633-5535
[email protected]
https://postalmuseum.si.edu/accessibility External

Nearest Metro station:

Union Station – Red line

The National Postal Museum preserves and exhibits artifacts and documents relating to the history of the postal service, the people who worked for it, and its place in the United States.

Accessibility:

  • Descriptive tours are available for visitors with visual impairments. The museum requests one week of advanced notice.

Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (except December 25)
1661 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20006
202-633-8550
[email protected]
https://americanart.si.edu/education/adult/verbal-description-tours External

Nearest Metro stations:

Farragut North – Red line
Farragut West – Blue, Orange, and Silver lines

The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is operated by the American Art Museum and displays contemporaryAmerican crafts and decorative arts.

Accessibility:

  • Specialized tours and descriptions of the collection to visitors with visual disabilities.
  • Aira site; users can use the Aira app to have exhibit items described to them.

S. Dillon Ripley Center

10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (except December 25)
1100 Jefferson Dr. SW, 3rd Sublevel
Washington, DC 20024
202-633-8700 for Discovery Theater and 202-633-3030 for Smithsonian Associates
[email protected]
https://www.si.edu/museums/ripley-center External
https://smithsonianassociates.org/ticketing/help/accessibility External

Nearest Metro station:

Smithsonian – Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines

The S. Dillon Ripley Center is the home of Smithsonian Associates, the largest museum-based education program in the world. The programs are available online or in person and cover the humanities, science, and the arts. The center’s Discovery Theater has hosted educational programs for more than thirty years.

Accessibility:

  • Interpreter services are available by contacting the Discovery Theater two weeks prior to the performance

Other Sites Featuring Accessible Visitor Experiences

Botanic Garden, United States

Indoor Conservatory: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily (except December 25)

Gated Outdoor Gardens: 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily (These outdoor gardens have extended evening hours from April 1 - September 15 each year, staying open until 7:00 p.m.)

Bartholdi Fountain and Gardens: Open from dawn to dusk, daily, including weekends and holidays. They are located across Independence Avenue from the Conservatory, with access from any of the three bordering streets: Independence Avenue, Washington Avenue, or First Street SW.

100 Maryland Ave. SW
Washington, DC 20001
202-226-1047
[email protected]
www.usbg.gov/accessibility-usbg External

Nearest Metro station:

Federal Center SW – Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines

Located on the Capitol Grounds, the United States Botanic Garden is one of the oldest continuously operating botanic gardens in the United States. It maintains a permanent conservatory of plants from across the globe in a variety of climates. The US Botanic Garden was formally placed under the jurisdiction of the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress in 1856 and has been administered through the Architect of the Capitol since 1934.

Accessibility:

  • Specialized tours and descriptions of the collection to visitors with visual disabilities.
  • The Garden's Map and Visitor Guide is available in Braille and large print and may be picked up in the Conservatory lobby.

Capitol Visitor Center, United States

9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday to Friday
1st St. SE
Washington, DC 20004
202-224-4048
www.visitthecapitol.gov/plan-visit/visitors-disabilities External

Nearest metro stations:

Capitol South – Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines
Union Station – Red Line

Free advance tour reservations are recommended.

The US Capitol is the seat of the United States' Legislative Branch. The building has a collection of American art featuring portraits, sculptures, photos, and other works depicting key figures and moments from American history. All visitors can sit in the galleries of the House of Representatives and Senate during session to witness the legislative process first-hand. Gallery passes can be obtained from your Representative or Senator’s office. The Capitol Visitor Center (CVC) also features a rich collection of art and interactive exhibits.

Accessibility:

  • An audio described tour of the CVC’s Exhibition Hall can be found on the Audio Described Tour of Exhibition Hall External page.
  • Capitol Visitor Center brochures are available in alternative formats (large print, braille, HTML) at the Information Desks.
  • The Office of Congressional Accessibility Services (OCAS) can provide tours specifically designed for visitors with visual impairments.

Holocaust Memorial Museum, United States

10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (except Yom Kippur and December 25)
100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl. SW
Washington, DC 20024-2126
202-488-6100
[email protected]
www.ushmm.org/information/visit-the-museum/museum-accessibility External

Nearest Metro station:

Smithsonian – Blue, Orange, and Silver lines

Free timed-entry tickets are required for the permanent exhibition.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum serves as a testament to the officially sanctioned genocide of European Jews by Nazi Germany. The Museum houses an unparalleled repository of Holocaust evidence that documents the fate of victims, survivors, rescuers, liberators, and others. The collection contains millions of documents, artifacts, photos, films, books, and testimonies.

Accessibility:

  • The Museum offers guided highlights tours upon request for visitors who are blind or low vision and their guests. Tours are led by trained staff or volunteer docents and include visual description and touchable objects. Please provide two weeks’ notice before your visit.

John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, The

Monday–Wednesday 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Thursday and Friday 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday 12:00 to 9:00 p.m.
2700 F St. NW
Washington, DC 20566
202-416-8727
800-444-1324 toll-free
[email protected]
www.kennedy-center.org/visit/accessibility/visual/ External

Nearest Metro station:

Foggy Bottom – Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. The Kennedy Center offers a shuttle from the station.

Free concerts are presented every evening at the Millennium Stage, and many free events are presented outside at The Reach. Other shows require paid admission.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is the home of the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera. The Center was created as a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy. It presents and produces a vast array of performing arts expressions and aims to educate visitors about the importance of cultural heritage.

Accessibility:

  • Playbills in large-print and braille playbills are available at all performances (with the exception of dance).
  • Visitors with visual disabilities may request touch tours of the facility. Audio descriptions are scheduled for select Kennedy Center events throughout the year.
  • Using a single earpiece connected to an infrared headset, patrons who are blind or have low vision can listen to trained audio describers give live, verbal descriptions of actions, costumes, scenery, and other visual elements of a performance. Audio describers start pre-show notes approximately 15 minutes before the performance begins. Patrons who wish to listen to the description must pick up a headset. Headsets are distributed free-of-charge on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • The center also offers audio description upon request for non-designated events.

Library of Congress, Jefferson Building

8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday; closed on Sunday
101 Independence Ave. SE
Washington, DC 20540
202-707-6024
[email protected]
www.loc.gov/accessibility External

Nearest Metro station:

Capitol South – Blue, Orange, and Silver lines

Free timed-entry passes are required.

The Thomas Jefferson Building is a stately edifice richly adorned with Neoclassical, Gothic, and Renaissance artworks celebrating knowledge and the written word. The Library of Congress is also home to the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS), although NLS is not located in the Jefferson Building.

Accessibility:

  • The Library of Congress offers tactile tours of the Jefferson Building for blind and visually impaired visitors.

National Archives Museum

10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (except Thanksgiving and December 25)
General Admission entrance is near the corner of Constitution Ave. and 9th St., to the left of the stairs.
701 Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20408
https://museum.archives.gov/accessibility External
[email protected]

Nearest Metro station:

Archives/Navy Memorial – Green and Yellow lines

Free reservations are not required for individuals or groups, but they are strongly suggested between March and Labor Day.

The National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, will undergo renovations to the permanent galleries, learning center, and theater starting summer 2023. The National Archives Rotunda—home to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—will remain open during the renovation, as will the Records of Rights exhibit in the David M. Rubenstein Gallery, the rotating Featured Documents display, and special exhibitions in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery.

Accessibility:

  • Five copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence are available in braille. Please contact Visitor Services for more information at [email protected].

National Gallery of Art

10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily (except December 25 and January 1)
6th and Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20565
202-842-6905
[email protected]
www.nga.gov/visit/accessibility.html External

Nearest Metro stations:

Archives/Navy Memorial – Green and Yellow lines

Judiciary Square – Red line

The National Gallery of Art features both classical and modern artworks from across the globe. The permanent collection has more than 150,000 pieces, among them prints, drawings, photographs, and decorative arts. Artists include Alexander Calder, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Louise Bourgeois, and Jackson Pollock.

Accessibility:

  • Rich verbal description tours (East Building) to visitors with visual disabilities.
  • Audio tour braille transcript (East Building) on request.
  • Audio tour large-print transcripts on request: Transcripts for the East Building Tour (selected pieces) available at the Information Desk in the atrium of the East Building. West Building (selected pieces) and the Kids West Building audio tours are available at the information desk in the West Building Rotunda.

National Park Services – National Mall and Memorial Parks

Open to the public 24 hours per day. Rangers on duty at sites from 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily.
1100 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242
202-426-6841
www.nps.gov/nama/planyourvisit/accessibility.htm External

The National Park Service – National Mall and Memorial Parks preserves natural and cultural resources for conservation, education, enjoinment of all visitors.

Accessibility:

  • Braille brochures of each of the memorials with copies at any information kiosk. Braille brochures available include the Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Korean War Veterans, Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Vietnam Veterans memorials and the Washington Monument.
  • A large print version of the Gettysburg Address is available at the Lincoln Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Korean War Veterans Memorial
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
DC War Memorial
World War II Memorial
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Washington Monument
Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument

Specific Hours

Washington Monument: open daily from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.; closed on December 25, December 25, and July 4. Monument closed one day a month for maintenance. Closures for 2023 include: Tue, Jan. 10; Mon, Feb. 6; Fri, Mar. 3; Thu, Apr. 6; Tue, May 2; Mon, Jun. 5; Fri, Jul. 7; Thu, Aug. 3; Tue, Sept. 5; Mon, Oct. 2; Fri, Nov. 3; Tue, Dec 5.

Additional sites off of the National Mall:

African American Civil War Memorial
American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial
Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument
District of Columbia War Memorial
Ford's Theatre
Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site
World War I Memorial
Uptown Parks


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