The Braille Institute Visits El Presidio SHP!

Valerie answering questions after visitors watched the introductory video in the Northwestern corner of the Presidio. Photo by Danny Tsai.

On Feb 25th, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) welcomed 7 students and 4 volunteers from the Braille Institute for a tour of the Presidio grounds. These adults have varying degrees of vision loss so SBTHP’s docent, Valerie, and I worked together to find ways to diversify our standard tour. Each group that comes on site requires special consideration on behalf of our docents to ensure that visitors are walking away with an equal experience of a tour that is both fun and informational.

The group gathered around outside to talk right in front of the second defense wall on a beautiful sunny day. Photo by Danny Tsai.

This tour started like any other one with a big welcome and brief overview of ourselves and the birthplace of Santa Barbara. Valerie then led the group to the Northwestern wing to listen to our introductory video, build some context, and answer any additional questions. Valerie then brought the group outside to the second defense wall to discuss Spanish colonialism along with ongoing archeological efforts.

Braille Institute students explore the chapel on their own after given some history. Photo by Danny Tsai.

We then transitioned to the chapel where students had a chance to explore a little bit on their own after given some background information, including fascinating tidbits about the invaluable painting of Saint Barbara that is hanging on the chapel wall. Next, we went to an interactive station that Valerie and I prepared in advance that had all sorts of objects that students could touch and feel. Some of the objects included the Presidio A5 branding iron, adobe bricks, clay tiles, and a Spanish adarga, or leather shield.

The tour ended in the Comandancia where Valerie specially prepared a talk on traditional food and how it was prepared. Valerie even brought some champurrado and hominy for everyone to taste. Photo by Danny Tsai.

Our last stop was in the Comandancia where everyone gathered at the big dining room table and got to smell, feel, and learn about the different types of cooking ingredients that the soldiers and their families would have used at that time. Valerie was so thoughtful that she took it one step further and brought traditional champurrado and hominy for everyone to taste. We spent the rest of the time in the comandancia’s dining room chatting about Presidio life and segued into talking about Pearl Chase and the more contemporary history of the Presidio neighborhood.

We prepared a hands-on table for the students to interact with some objects that would have been used during the Presidio time period. Photo by Danny Tsai.

Overall, I believe Valerie’s unique tour showcases the creativity and flexibility our docents have to have in order to ensure that a tour is both educational and memorable. We hope to activate our visitor’s curiosity and develop a connection with this historic site so that they will be interested in coming back. Furthermore, one of SBTHP’s value statements is to strive to be more inclusive and accessible for all of those who visit the Presidio. We are thankful to Brianna and her students from the Braille Institute for visiting and we look forward to their welcoming their next group soon. If you are interested in undergoing training to become one of our volunteer docents, please click here!

Danny Tsai is the director of programs at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.

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