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Posts Tagged ‘disabilities’

2020-07-24-disability-doll

Photo: Sam Butler
“Two-year-old Lula-Belle Butler-Wenlock-Simpson, who was born with heart problems and underwent open-heart surgery, poses with a Special Friends doll whose scar mirrors her own,” explains PRI.

At Public Radio International (PRI), a distributor of some of my favorite shows, I recently learned about personalized dolls for children with disabilities and other big challenges. Bianca Hillier reported the story at PRI’s “The World.”

“Dolls have come a long way since the 1950s. One of the first TV commercials for Mattel Inc.’s Barbie doll sang: ‘Barbie’s small and so petite. Her clothes and figure look so neat.’

“While modern-day dolls aren’t confined to quite as rigid looks, the industry still has room to expand its inclusivity — especially for children with disabilities.

“That’s the challenge Victoria Band faced when her son was growing up. He is deaf in both ears and uses hearing aids. When he was younger, she wanted to give him a doll that also used hearing aids to show that he was not alone.

“ ‘When he went to his [medical appointments], he’d say, “Mommy, it’s a scary place at first. You don’t know what’s happening. You don’t know what [the hearing aids] are going to look like,” ‘ Band said. ‘So if [only] there was a doll there and they could say, “Oh, look, this is what you’re going to have in your ears. Look at all the different colors you could have.” ‘ …

“Band, who has always been crafty, started making her own dolls last year. She called the business ‘Special Friends.’

Working from her home in Dewsbury, England, she now makes dolls who have scars, cleft lips, hearing aids, oxygen tanks, or anything else that matches a child’s special needs. Many of the dolls are custom-made. …

“Band’s handmade dolls have since helped hundreds of kids, including a little girl named Lula-Belle who was born with heart problems and had open heart surgery at 14 weeks old. Lula-Belle is 2 years old now and has a scar down the middle of her chest. Her mom, Sam Butler, found out about ‘Special Friends’ on Facebook. …

“ ‘When she got her first doll, she was like, “Mommy, scar! Scar! Scar! Me scar, me scar!” ‘ Butler recalled. ‘And she pulled up her top. And she was matching scars with her baby.’ …

“Special Friends has been up and running for less than a year, but Band has already sent dolls beyond the United Kingdom to Germany, the US, and Australia. She says seeing the reactions come in from around the world is priceless.

“ ‘You can’t ask for much more than seeing a child really happy,’ Band said. ‘That’s worth more than anything.’

“Band added that the dolls can also be used as an educational tool to teach kids about medical equipment, surgeries, and conditions they may not know about. People need to be ‘more aware,’ she said, so that other children aren’t made to feel different in the first place.”

More at PRI, here.

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Hard to believe, I know, but some things have gotten better. Take accessibility. When my father was disabled by a stroke in the 1950s, there were few supports for families. There were no ramps, no specialized bathrooms at highway rest stops, no programs to teach the afflicted new ways to be independent. People with disabilities were mostly on their own.

Today, there are interpreters for the deaf who are as dramatic and interesting as anything being interpreted, there are kneeling buses and building regulations that incorporate universal design precepts (ramps, wide doors for wheelchairs, high toilet seats, grab bars), and more.

The other day when my husband and I watched a Disney film on Netflix, we even discovered that someone with vision impairment could get all the images narrated.

And here’s another new angle: a contemporary museum is using virtual reality to enable folks in wheelchairs to see an otherwise inaccessible exhibit. Steven Overly at the Washington Post has the story.

“The magic of the ‘Infinity Mirrors’ exhibit begins as soon as the door is closed behind you. Surrounded by mirrors on all sides, visitors find themselves at the center of a seemingly endless plain filled with brightly colored lights and geometric sculptures.

“But curators at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, where the exhibit is on display until May 14, faced an early challenge: how to re-create that magic for visitors in wheelchairs. …

“Drew Doucette, who oversees multimedia and technology initiatives at the Hirshhorn, thought immediately of virtual reality. …

“The Renwick Gallery, National Museum of Natural History and other Smithsonian Institution sites have created virtual experiences in the past, often with the goal of extending the exhibit to people or students who may not be able to visit in person. The ‘Infinity Mirrors’ exhibit marks the first time any have used virtual reality to make an exhibit accessible to those with disabilities, [Beth Ziebarth, director of the Smithsonian’s Accessibility Program] said.

“The wildly popular art exhibit is spread across six portable rooms, each filled with objects created by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. …

“But in three of the rooms, visitors must walk through 30-inch doorways and onto platforms less than four feet wide to achieve the full experience. …

“It took roughly four months to plan and design the Infinity Mirrors virtual reality experience on Unity, a program typically used to build video games, Doucette said. …

“ ‘We essentially had to take a step back from trying to recreate the rooms and get into the head of Kusama and say, “What was she trying to do? How did she end up using mirrors?” ‘ Doucette said.” Read more.

Photo: Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post
Volunteer Megan Walline experiences the installation “Infinity Mirrored Room — All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins” at the Hirshhorn in Washington, DC.

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At the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, a group of children are learning the joy of theater.

Tammy La Gorce writes in the NY Times that the playhouse now has a class for children with disabilities.

“The class is a logical next step for Paper Mill, which last year began offering a series of sensory-friendly presentations for children with autism in its ‘Theater for Everyone’ programming. Sensory-friendly shows are scripted to be more literal, with innuendo kept to a minimum, and the theater’s lighting and volume are adjusted to help audience members feel more comfortable.

“This year, in a partnership with VSA New Jersey, a nonprofit organization that provides arts programming for children and adults with disabilities, Paper Mill joined the ranks of theaters welcoming such children who have an interest in learning to perform.

“Parents of children with developmental disabilities ‘are seeing the benefits of arts education,’ said Lisa Cooney, 46, director of education for Paper Mill. ‘And they’re a lot more proactive than they used to be.’

“Those who run the programs find them rewarding as well. The children ‘give so much to us,’ said Mickey McNany, the director of Paper Mill’s Theater School, after the recent class. In it, her 10-year-old granddaughter, Mary McNany, who has Down syndrome, identified Mozart as the composer of ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik,’ performed an improvised roller-skating scene and used sign language, as well as her voice, to sing a song.” Read more.

Below, Marnie McNany takes part with her children Finn and Mary.
Photograph: Aaron Houston for the New York Times

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