Given a day of their own; Port Discovery opens for disabled children to take part in activities


Jeffrey Duerr stargazed from Mars, searched for an ancient Egyptian pharaoh and read hieroglyphics yesterday, without leaving Baltimore.

The 12-year-old pupil at Harbour School of Baltimore was visiting Port Discovery, which held "Accessibility Day," a day to let kids with disabilities enjoy the children's museum "in a safe setting where it was their own special day," said Kathy Southern, president of Port Discovery.

Port Discovery, usually closed Mondays, teamed with the Maryland Disabilities Forum to let about 700 disabled children visit the museum for free.

"Someday these young children will grow up and be facing the same hurdles that their predecessors face, so we're trying to make it better for them," said Joel Myerberg, chairman of the Maryland Disabilities Forum. "Events like this introduce children to the disability movement so they know there are people out there caring for them."

The museum, which opened in December 1998, was designed with the needs of the disabled in mind, said Southern. Employees are trained to work with children with disabilities, the building has ramps and elevators, and seating areas are designed for wheelchairs, she said.

During yesterday's event, "Kids were throughout the museum in all the exhibits, participating in everything, and I think that's a very good indicator for us that the museum reaches a broad cross-section of Maryland kids," said Southern.

Fifteen Harbour School pupils, including Jeffrey, spent the day at the museum. Joan Lauffer, a Harbour art teacher, said the children enjoyed participating in exhibits that stimulate the senses.

"They really love to do things with their hands," she said as she helped Jeffrey make a paper wheel with drawings of constellations.

Jeffrey agreed, saying he likes museums where "you get to touch stuff." He said his favorite part was the Egyptian "Adventure Expedition," where visitors can see mummies and dig for tablets.

Students from Baltimore County's Ridge School, for those with more severe physical disabilities, concentrated on an exhibit that played drum, flute, guitar and other musical instrument sounds. They were preparing for today's trip to the symphony, and teacher Gail Hendricks said the exhibit reinforced what she taught in class.

Hendricks said Port Discovery is a place she can take all her students, regardless of age or ability.

"This museum has really tried to hit all the levels," she said.

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