Nelson exhibit helps people with disabilities access the world

Reese Bentzinger

Today was a good one for me. For the first time in a month I got to pet a dog, a friendly yellow lab who gave me a big smile when I rubbed his head.

Unlike most dogs, this one was a robot designed to comfort people with dementia and autism. You too can stop by and say hello to him at the Nelson Atkins new exhibition, “Access + Ability.”

The exhibit is unique, as it focuses on everyday products rather than pieces meant to be art. The objects on display were all created to help people with disabilities perform functional tasks.

That doesn’t mean this exhibition doesn’t have a statement. The mere existence of these products goes to show what might be normal activities for us are hard for people with disabilities. Throughout the exhibit are video clips of people with disabilities trying out the products, ranging from the deaf experiencing the joy of music through electronic vibrations to a visually impaired woman being able to draw.

The functional pieces also tend to be visually stunning. A mechanical leg meant for amputee runners could be compared to that of a cheetah. Another product for amputees, an elegant attachable arm, allows people to enjoy dinner parties in style.

The most beautiful part of the exhibit was undoubtedly its message. It’s clear through the videos that these products mean a lot to people. Pictures of an accessible playground show the delight of those getting to enjoy a playground with their families for the first time. Products created for people with disabilities give them access to everyday experiences that are just normal for the rest of us.

“Access + Ability” will be on display at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art until Feb. 9 2020. Admission is free.

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