Edward Lawson remembers one of the first times he escorted a young blind woman on a tour of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. After touching one of the five "Head of Jeanette" sculptures by Henri Matisse, she rushed home, bought some clay and started creating.

"The touch tour for the blind originated in 1977 as one way of attracting another part of the museum-going audience," said Lawson, chief of the museum's education department.

Blind and visually disabled people can touch bronze sculptures by Degas, Rodin, Bourdelle, Picasso, Lipchitz, Henry Moore and David Smith as well as pieces by Matisse. A hard wax paste is applied every six months to protect the art work.

"We like to do the tour chronologically because it shows the visually disabled the progression from a realistic or naturalistic mode of expression to the development of modern art and abstraction," Lawson said. The tour starts with a torso of a woman by the Impressionist Degas.

To schedule a tour, call 357-3235. The museum is located at Independence Avenue and Eighth Street SW. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Blind and visually impaired people can go through the museum without a tour if they are accompanied by a sighted companion.