Families Marginalized by Disability Find Warm Welcome at Tower of David Museum

May 31, 2016

Source: Times of Israel


The Markowitz family had a wonderful time recently on two occasions at the Tower of David Museum in the Old City of Jerusalem. For both the Purim and Passover holidays this spring, the museum ran programs exclusively for families with children with physical, emotional and developmental disabilities.

There were art projects, games, puppet shows, imaginative play and other sorts of activities one would expect at holiday programs for families. The difference was that in this case, the museum was closed to the general public and everything was adjusted to meet the needs of both the children with special needs, and those of their neurotypical siblings.

While such specialized family programs are quite common in the US and UK, it is only now that Israeli cultural institutions — with The Tower of David Museum leading the way — are tuning in to the requirements of this particular audience sector.

Serving this particular audience requires creative thinking, extra staff training, and a commitment of resources.

The Tower of David partnered with Shutaf, a Jerusalem-based organization that runs inclusive informal education opportunities for children with disabilities, in designing and preparing for these programs.

The museum’s successful approach was sophisticated in thought, but relaxed in application. This involved closing the museum to the general public (or opening the museum just for these families when it is normally closed) and limiting the number of program participants. The environment was deliberately low-stress, to the point where art projects did not involve any expectation of creating an end product.

Families were free to go anywhere in the museum’s galleries and watch the museum’s Night Spectacular sound and light show (with brightness and sound adjusted slightly down for this audience). Eating was permitted, and a quiet room was provided for children who felt overly stimulated and needed to go somewhere without noise and distraction for a while.

The Tower of David Museum has looked to cultural institutions in London for guidance on how to develop not only its own programs for families with children with special needs, but also on how to establish a network of museums in Jerusalem — and perhaps throughout Israel — that will follow suit.

Caroline Shapiro, who made the initial contact between the Tower of David Museum and this London network, would like to see a similar network established in Jerusalem. A commitment from Jerusalem’s Old Yishuv Court Museum to offer a program specifically for families with children with special needs already early this summer makes her hopeful it will happen.

Read more at Times of Israel.

Updated: Jun. 08, 2016