Blind World Magazine

Blind children experience circus of the senses.

January 21, 2006.
The State, South Carolina.

Tiny Alexis Faulkenberry, stood knee-high to the 9,000-pound Asian elephant. She ran her hands inquisitively along the length of its massive, leathery trunk, feeling its twists and turns to the small, wet end.

Slowly, she turned to the crowd gathered around, rubbed her hands together and exclaimed, "Eeewww, elephant snot!"

Alexis, 5, could not see the red-and-gold harness adorning the elephant's massive head. Nor could she peer back at the curious brown eyes of the animal, named Asia, as it studied her.

Despite this, Alexis experienced the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in a way few ever will.

Alexis, who has been blind since birth, was one of 30 blind children taking part in a program Friday afternoon at the Colonial Center organized by the S.C. Commission for the Blind.

The children's disability took a back seat as they stood in the center ring laughing and smiling while on a touch tour of the "Greatest Show on Earth."

The children, some escorted by their parents and accompanied by their siblings, could not see the vibrant purples and pinks of the clowns' costumes, but they were able to feel the ruffles, sequins and big, fat shoes worn by the entertainers. They could hear the squawk of the accordion and bang of the drums, even if they could not see the instruments.

After the touch tour, the children were escorted to seats especially wired for this performance so they could hear a running narration of the show created just for them.

During the event, Grandpa the Clown described himself to the children encircling him as a little tattered. He lifted a child's hand to his face. "Here is my big nose and little glasses." He guided fingers along the wire rims.

"Feel my hair. I don't have much of it." He brought another hand to his bald head.

"Feathers," said a child recognizing the texture of what was left of Grandpa's hair.

Grandpa shuffled along to a fire hydrant prop used in the show. The children followed the sound of his voice and walked with him.

"Blind people see a lot more than we give them credit for," said Grandpa, otherwise known as Alan Ware.

Ware, from New Mexico, has been with the circus for eight years.

He said this type of experience makes the circus "available and accessible" to the children who otherwise might not be able to experience it.

"It really is a circus of the senses."

End of article.

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