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Visually-impaired children tour museum at airport

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport recently teamed up with the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI) to give local, visually-impaired students a chance to appreciate art on their own terms.

Over the course of June and July, the airport hosted three groups of visually-impaired school children and gave them a tour of its permanent, Zimbabwean art exhibit, displayed in the airport's Transportation Mall, between the T and A concourses.

Rather than visual art encased behind glass covers, the exhibit features 15-20 stone works and carvings, that students could feel, touch and explore through their senses.

"It's a hands-on exhibit," said Lawrence Walker, an airport customer service representative, who helps lead the tours. "It's very intricate, and done with tools to create different textures. The children were able to touch and feel and get the idea for some of the art in the area.

"The children seemed to be very excited about it, because a lot of them don't get that experience," said Walker.

Annie Maxwell, director of the STARS (Social, Therapeutic, and Recreational Services) -- a program at CVI which engages visually-impaired students in social and networking opportunities -- is herself, legally blind. She said the museum experience can often be a static one for the visually impaired.

"We've gone to museums, but we have had guides who just tell us what is there," said Maxwell. "Things that normally take two hours would only take 30 minutes, because there is nothing for us to get engaged in.

"With this exhibit, you could touch it, climb on it, and nothing would happen to it," Maxwell continued. "We've never been to a museum where they could experience touching the sculptures. I think it added to their enrichment."

Brenda Sims, volunteer coordinator for Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, said this was the first time the airport has given a tour of this kind to the visually impaired. She said it was a learning experience for both the airport and the children enrolled in the STARS program.

"I, myself, did not know the extent of what visually-impaired kids go through," said Sims. "It was a very enlightening experience. We learned that they can survive and do anything any other children can do."