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Making It Work Wherever You Play

Recently my husband and I took my daughter to Storyville, this great little interactive play area which is part of the county library. It’s kind of like a children’s museum in that they have a little play grocery store, house, post office, etc. but each themed area also contains shelves of books related to that theme. There are two in our county. It’s a great, fun way to incorporate literacy into play for young children. I should mention that these play areas are designed for children ages birth to five. There is also a “BabyPark” with great multisensory areas, toys, and board books for infants and non-walking toddlers.

This is not my first visit to Storyville, and despite the fact that I’m a parent first, I always find myself looking at the activities there through my “teacher lens”, especially my teacher of blind students lens. I constantly see ways places designed specifically for children can be improved to be more meaningful and educational for a blind child.

Pic: Alphabet puzzle with wooden letters

Adaptation Note: ABC block puzzle—this is a great puzzle for blind kids in that it can help teach them tactually what print letters look like which is an important skill. However, in the case of adapting this for a blind or low vision child, I would simply place a dimo tape sticker of the Braille letter on each corresponding print letter piece. (I would give you an example of this, but this is a pic from Storyville and not my own puzzle.)

I’ve been tempted before to just show up sometime at Storyville with a bag full of clear Braille labels, wiki sticks, textured fabrics, bump dots, etc. and put them all up when no one is looking but that may be frowned upon by the staff just a little, even though it’s for a good cause.

Pic: Large wooden box divided into square sections which contain pictures of fruit and print words. Inside each square are plastic pieces of the fruit or vegetables.

Adaptation Note: Adding Braille Labels to places with Print–These fruit bins in the grocery store area are great because the fruit and vegetable models are pretty true to the real thing, thus making it meaningful to a blind child who would look at it tactually. This activity is used to teach sorting and colors and could easily be made more meaningful for a blind or low vision child by adding a Braille label with the corresponding word and placing it in the bins over the print words. Additionally, even though color is a difficult concept to convey to blind children, it is still important that they know concepts around color such as that bananas are yellow, apples are red, etc.

So this visit, I decided to take a little action through the appropriate channels. AS we were leaving, I asked the attendant at the desk to whom I would need to speak about some suggestions on making some adaptations for blind children. She seemed amicable to the idea and gave me the name of the lady in charge of Storyville. She also informed me that they have even had a small collection of braille books in the area in the past (a small start I thought, and maybe a good sign that they would be open to the idea). I haven’t called the director yet, but I’ll let you know how it goes. I worry that it might be a hard sell, even though all we’re really talking about here is a few Braille labels and inexpensive modifications—really no cost to the library—and most of which I’d even volunteer to do myself. To be honest, since blindness is such a low instance disability, making such changes may only serve one child, or may never even be used by a blind or low vision child, so selling the idea is a little bit difficult. But, on the other hand, think of how much of a difference it would make to that one child. Our blind and low vision children deserve equal access, even in play. I know the priority is not exactly to serve parents’ needs either, but making this place more accessible would also benefit blind or low vision parents like myself, my husband, and a handful of our friends who are also blind and live in the area who want to patronize these kind of places and be able to interact more fully with our children.

Another great side effect from adding such modifications would be the impact it would have on the hundreds of sighted children who come through the place on a regular basis. The exposure to some of the adaptations that would be made for a blind person—like Braille labels everywhere a print label appears—could do so much to help educate the public of the capabilities of blind people.

I think it would be so awesome if we could start this little movement to make over places like children’s museums, parks, playgrounds, children’s areas in public libraries, etc. I don’t mean that we would completely change things, but to suggest that we do more to encourage suggestions for adaptations which would help these places offer more to our blind and low vision children. Will you join this movement with me? Let me know of your experiences in this effort to improve places in your area for your blind and low vision children.