Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How could a person who is blind enjoy a trip to the zoo?

The Philadelphia Zoo is one of Art-Reach’s newest arts partners. It may seem odd that the zoo is included among that group; but upon closer look, the zoo is an art institution in more ways than one.

In addition to being the nation’s first zoo, the Philadelphia Zoo features more than 1,300 animals. It is a 42-acre Victorian garden with beautiful foliage and architecture, and Gladys, one of the group members, commented during the visit on how the scenery was lovely and peaceful.

My first blog assignment was to report on an Art-Reach arranged trip to this venue. I would be accompanying a member group from Associated Services for the Blind (ASB). This is a non-profit organization in Philadelphia that serves people who are blind or visually-impaired. I make that distinction because not everyone they serve is completely blind, and I learned this after talking to a man in the group named Rafael, whose impairment affected only his central vision.

I arrived early in the day of the visit. I was not really sure what my expectations for this trip were, but there was one question I had in the back of my mind that I was too afraid to ask: How could a person who is blind enjoy a trip to the zoo?

I met with the leaders of the group outside of the front gate. I asked the participants, consisting mostly of senior citizens, what they wanted from the trip and was given a multitude of answers that included hearing the animals roar, learning about the animals, and not being mistaken for one of the animals. I was glad to see that I was accompanying a group with a good sense of humor!

After entering, we met the tour guides Gail and Caleb. They were both docents - volunteer teachers for the zoo, and they reminded me of Art-Reach’s Ambassadors.

The first stop on the tour was the reptile house, but the group did not enter. Instead, they sat on the benches outside of the reptile house while Gail and Caleb let them feel snakes’ skins and a tortoise shell. The next stop on the tour was the hippo exhibit, where our guides answered questions and provided all sorts of information on everything from the hippos’ diet to the design of their pen. The guides continued to answer questions about all the animals we passed on the way to the last stop, including donkeys, rhinos, eagles, and peacocks, which have free reign of the zoo. The final destination of the tour was the childrens' zoo. Here the guides took the group to the petting zoo and helped them pet the goats.

After a quick lunch, the group decided to continue seeing more of the zoo. They ended up going to the big cat exhibit. It was here that I got the answer to my question. I noticed that when we approached an exhibit, the guides were able to show the members of ASB where the animals were by describing the structures between them and the animals, and then giving them distance of the animal. With this information, the members seemed to have a greater appreciation for the zoo exhibits. I saw this displayed somewhat ironically when we stopped at the theater there. The members of our group listened intently to hear the sounds of the big cats, but a small child held his hands over his eyes, because it was too scary for him.

At the end of the day, I felt I had a greater appreciation for the zoo and the widespread ways it can be enjoyed, and I wasn’t the only one. As one of the group visitors humorously told me,"they didn’t get to see much, but were glad to see what they did."

-Michael Endres

Interested in visiting the Zoo as an Art-Reach member? Contact our Program Department who can help you arrange a trip!

If you have a cultural arts experience you would like to share, we want to know about it! Contact Stephanie Borton, and your experience could be featured on this Blog, or add to this experience by posting a comment at the end of the article! Let us know what you think!


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