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Oak Lawn Children’s Museum addressing disabilities with new exhibits

Oak Lawn Children's Museum opened 'WhIf...I had hearing impairment or loss?' Ñ first 'WhIf ?' series about disabilities. | Ginger

Oak Lawn Children's Museum opened "What If...I had hearing impairment or loss?" Ñ the first in the "What If ?" series about disabilities. | Ginger Brashinger/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 31, 2014 6:24AM



The Oak Lawn Children’s Museum recently opened phase one of the ground-breaking “What If?” exhibits, which will focus on a variety of children’s disabilities.

“What if … I had hearing impairment or loss?” offers children hands-on activities, including “drawing a sound,” and touch screen activities which teach the science of sound.

The exhibit also features a “Time to Sign” video station which teaches sign language through song and activity. Yet another station allows children to adjust the sound while speaking through a microphone to simulate hearing loss.

“This is exciting and something that hasn’t been done before,” said Becky Lindsay, exhibit co-designer and co-owner of Mind Splash, said. “We’re excited to see how people are responding.”

The museum’s executive director Adam Woodworth said he began seriously thinking about adding exhibits addressing disabilities some time after the museum moved to its current location at 5100 Museum Drive in 2009.

“At some point, I said we really have an opportunity here … to use this platform to help people understand what it’s like (to have a disability) — to build empathy,” Woodworth said.

Woodworth said his own experience with a son who has cerebral palsy gave him first-hand experience with how others may view a child with a disability.

“People don’t necessarily understand what he goes through on a day-to-day basis,” Woodworth said. “You have that pre-judging that goes on, that first impression. So, how do you take away that first impression? How do you build understanding?”

Woodworth said through his experiences as a parent and as the museum’s director for more than eight years, he met other adults whose children have disabilities and who share the same goal.

One like-minded parent, Frankfort resident Monica Blouin, partnered with Woodworth when the two discovered their “shared vision” to educate all children about disabilities.

“We like to talk about not their disability, but (how) everybody has different abilities,” Woodworth said.

Over a two-year period, a team made up of Woodworth, Blouin, “What If?” exhibit designers and “Mind Splash” co-owners Becky Lindsay and Robin Frisch and Signing Time Academy instructors brainstormed ideas for the hearing exhibit, Blouin said.

Blouin said that, like Woodworth, her personal experiences demonstrated a need for young children to be exposed to and understand disabilities, especially in other children.

Blouin started Lil Miracles Sign Language Academy after her seven-year-old daughter Madie, born with Down syndrome, experienced communication difficulties. Through the use of sign language, Blouin said, Madie learned to communicate with her family and also gives her daughter a greater chance at forming relationships with other children.

“Adam’s overall idea for the exhibit is that it’s okay to be different and that really rings home with me because I want my daughter to not be viewed as different. I know physically she wears her diagnosis on her face but my hope for her is that people will look at her and not see Down syndrome. I want them to see Madie,” Blouin said. “I’m hoping from the exhibit children learn from an early age that it’s okay to be different.”

Woodworth said that the museum will be challenged by space issues as they add to the “What if?” series, but the intention is to address the challenge in creative ways.

Still planned are exhibits that would address vision and physical disabilities through the use of blindfolds, “kid-size wheelchairs,” and clothing to simulate the loss of a limb, among other ideas, he said. The goal is to have the children take what they learn through the exhibits beyond the museum walls, Blouin said.

“If we start the grass roots and we start teaching this generation that it’s okay to be different,” Blouin said, “we will absolutely change the world.”



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