Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board (Summit DD) and the Cleveland Sight Center have teamed up with the newly renovated Akron Children’s Museum to create an inclusive learning environment for kids of all abilities. Located inside Lock 3, the environment offers tactile, sensory-friendly play where kids with and without disabilities can learn and grow together.
The collaboration follows other inclusive improvements in Lock 3, like Summit DD’s Winter Fest. The museum’s creators, Betsy and Ryan Hartschuh, reached out to Summit DD to see how they could expand inclusive opportunities at the museum.
“Everyone has different learning styles; some are visual, some are tactile, some are auditory. We were looking to incorporate all different aspects of learning so everyone has the best opportunity to participate,” said Haylee DeSonne, Developmental Specialist at Summit DD. DeSonne, alongside Brenda Lammers of the Cleveland Sight Center, co-wrote and received a grant for $7,000 from the GPD Employees’ Foundation to turn the inclusive vision of the museum into a reality.
The museum creators explained that the goal is to have the kids dictate the play rather than directing it, creating a hands-on, group experience.
“It’s such an immersive play environment,” said Akron Children’s Museum co-creator, Ryan Hartschuh. “The disability disappears. Everybody’s just playing and sharing and creating their own little world,” shared Hartschuh. “Everybody fits in.”
The learning environment features switch-adapted buttons for kids with limited mobility, accessible ramps and exhibits focused on tactile, sensory-friendly experiences. This style of learning has been stimulating for kids with and without disabilities, and has lent itself to some of the museum’s favorite exhibits.
A new exhibit developed through the collaboration is a light box, featuring a glowing table top for illuminating and manipulating shapes and objects. It has been a popular attraction among all visitors and is very beneficial to kids with visual impairments who rely on their sense of touch.
These kinds of natural adaptations are what makes the museum special. “It’s such a springboard for our workplaces and our communities,” said Brenda Lammers, of the Cleveland Sight Center. Brenda explained how inclusive play at a young age fosters inclusion for the future.
The collaboration is a part of Summit DD’s vision to build a community that’s inclusive for everyone.
“Downtown Akron is making changes to be more inclusive and we’re hoping to develop that even further. I think we have a huge dream in mind and we have a lot of partners on board but it takes the whole community to bring it all together and make that change,” added DeSonne.
“Whenever you see the kids and their smiles, it’s like, how could you not be happy! We’re all so passionate about what we do, and that’s what keeps us wanting to do more,” concluded DeSonne.
The museum is open Tues-Sun 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and is located inside Lock 3 at 216 South Main Street in Akron, OH.