Kids' Guide 2011

A fun-for-all helping of the area’s best activities, learning tools, gathering places and more for little Main Liners.

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All Access

Making friends with Melita the puppet. (Photo by Jared Castaldi)

Meet Melita, a 7-year-old girl with cerebral palsy. Actually, she’s a hand puppet in a wheelchair who talks with kids about disabilities at Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum. She’s one of several additions to the museum born of the national traveling Access/ABILITY exhibit from Boston Children’s Museum.

“We worked with Children’s Hospital [of Philadelphia] to create Melita,” says president and CEO Laura Foster. “Children are naturally very curious. We have a number of staff people in wheelchairs, and they go right up to them and ask questions.”

Running through April 24 at the Please Touch Museum, Access/ABILITY is about spreading awareness of physical and learning impairments, while making people with and without disabilities comfortable around each other. “It would have been helpful for all of us to experience all of that early on,” says Foster. “It makes us less fearful.”

Kids can go through a wheelchair obstacle course, type in braille, use their senses to create art, try out a hand-pedaled bike, and more. And people with disabilities are available at special kiosks to talk about their atypical lifestyles—something Please Touch staffers are already comfortable doing. “They like it [when kids ask questions],” says Foster. “It gives them a chance to talk with the children, and I think they would rather that than no one come up and talk to them.”

Along with Melita, Please Touch is introducing its “We All Make Music” program, featuring instruments designed for various disabilities, plus storytime books with braille and disabled characters. Special organizations that serve kids with disabilities can also sign up for a therapeutic membership that allows their staff members to bring groups to the exhibit.

“Historically, Please Touch has always encouraged families that have children with all sorts of abilities to come to the museum, so we think it’s important that all of us learn how much more similar we are than different,” says Foster. “And it’s important to start that with children.”

To better prepare museum employees for the exhibit, Philadelphia nursing care facility Inglis House provided special training and volunteers to promote positive behavior for visitors. Inglis is also guiding Please Touch with its new Explore-Ability play kit for students who can’t easily visit the museum. Thanks to handy tools like a white cane and visual depictions of sign language, the kit expands the reach of Access/ABILITY so awareness continues to spread.

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