Ben Grauer reported from Time Square wearing a blindfold and being guided by a seeing-eye dog; nearly all of us have played blind man's buff, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey or other childhood games involving blindfolds. But once the game's over and the handkerchief removed, most of us shrink from the handicapped, even though we may wonder, uneasily, how blind people get around with only a special cane or how it feels to have an artificial limb.
At the Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology, docents use frank discussion, demonstrations and exhibits to show us "normal" people the aids handicapped people rely on in their daily lives - and, in the precess, much of the fear and uneasiness handicapped people arouse in us melt away.
Try on a prosthetic arm, see how it's built, how it's fitted, how it works; compare it to the painful hooks and peg legs common a century ago.
Treatment has come a long way from the early ear horn for the deaf and the 19th century Braille writer (designed by 15-year-old Louis Braille) that simplified the system from 12-dot to 6-dot characters. The cumbersome straps cups on streamlined, skintoned resin limbs. Cushioned socks now ease sensitive stumps into their artifical aids.
On the historical side is a survey of braces covering all afflictions from curvature of the spine to polio-shriveled arms and legs. Pictures of electronic typewriters for the deaf and a soon-to-be-marketed wheelchair for quadraplegics monitored by voice imprint seem almost as remote as a 19th century Zander apparatus, bicycle-like exercise machine. The head tongs that hold the upper body in traction for broken backs and necks are a marked improvement over the old technique of drilling into the skull or suspending the body upside down.
An artifical leg constructed from odd bits of wire, sticks and cloth by a South Carolina farmer after he lost his real one in an accident just proves that these aids are simply tools for living.
For information and special tours call 381-4141 or coordinator Joseph Buckley at 381-6707. Demonstrations available Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.