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Tactile wall helps start conversations

Oct. 10, 2012

Easter Seals Disability Services recently partnered with United Way to create a tactile wall for people with disabilities.

The wall is covered with objects including pencils, smiley faces and seashells.

Six volunteers from Rockwell Automation who participated in the United Way Day of Caring on Sept. 14 made the sensory wall. People with disabilities picked what would go on the wall and the volunteers did the groundwork.

Susan Klawien, activity and personal care coordinator at Easter Seals' Wauwatosa Center, said: "It's great for the volunteers to work with people with disabilities that they may not have worked with before. It's purposeful so that the participants can know that they had a part in it."

The idea for a tactile wall came from Klawien's husband, who works with Milwaukee Public Schools. He had worked with a fabric tactile wall. Three-dimensional objects were used at Easter Seals instead of fabric so those with vision-impairment can make use of the wall as well.

"It makes them look around, and if they're visually impaired they can feel it. We can have them count the items, like pencils, and we can always add items to it," Klawien said.

The objects on the wall came from the junk bins of Easter Seals' participants.

"We can take off a panel, put it on a table and have them touch and feel it. It makes a good conversation starter," Klawien said. "We'll ask, 'Who can find an airplane? Who can see a smiley face? How many of you are happy today?' "

Benjamin True, an artist who works with Easter Seals, painted a 5-foot tall abstract representation of the wall. He worked with the participants to create it and stops in every weekday to paint with people with disabilities for two hours.

"I do art there because I like helping people who are mentally challenged," he said. "It's a very open place, and I can use whatever intelligence I have and apply it with the people at Easter Seals. It's fun coming up with different approaches to projects, and I can see how it works when I work with people."

True receives grant money to work at Easter Seals. The grant money roughly translates into $70 per week for True.

When True isn't working at Easter Seals, he spends time on his own creations at home.

True said, "The wall is pretty cool. I said to Sue that it works like a children's book called 'Stone Soup.' It looks like almost nature dioramas against the wall instead of laid flat on a table."

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