Eyal, a resident of the Elwyn Center in his mid-20s, has Down Syndrome and uses a wheelchair. His hand movements are restricted and his dexterity is limited. Most days, he is able to work, packaging sweets for children's birthday parties. In the Katie Manson Sensory Garden he moves around with confidence and concentration. With a bright and captivating smile, he says, "It's very good that they made the garden, I really feel like a normal person here, not like I'm in a wheelchair." In late October, the Elwyn Center for the Disabled, located in Kiryat Hayovel, together with the Jerusalem Foundation, inaugurated the Katie Manson Sensory Garden. The cost of the 3,000-square-meter garden came to some $1 million, contributed by the "Manchester Group" of funders; the Jerusalem Foundation; the United Jewish Israel Appeal of Manchester, England; the National Insurance Institute; the Social Affairs Ministry; the Shalem Foundation; and the Albert Beresin Trust. (See related article.) Throughout Israel, the Elwyn Centers serve over 1,400 children and adults with special needs. The 500 residents of the Elwyn Center in Kiryat Hayovel, all of whom are above the age of 21, will be the primary users of this garden, which is also open to other children and adults in the neighborhood. The garden, the organizers explain, is specifically and uniquely designed for individual and guided usage and will provide individuals who are otherwise restricted with an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors in an interactive environment, while improving their motor and cognitive abilities. The garden is the product of years of planning and research. Explains Ilana Ofir, landscape architect, "I spent hours with the residents of the Elwyn Center and the professional team, watching and learning in order to provide a space that would be relevant and useful to the residents of the Elwyn Center." Together with Ido Bruno, an industrial architect from the Bezalel School of Art and Design, she planned, designed and organized the space. The residents of the Elwyn Center, and people with physical and cognitive disabilities, have more complex needs than others, Ofir notes. To maintain concentration and interest, the displays must be close to each other; the space must be adapted for wheelchairs, and the facilities must be simple, yet not childish. The Katie Manson Sensory Garden differs from other projects around the world. This garden aims to target and localize one sense at a time, so that the visitors will not be "overwhelmed with the overload of information," says Ofir. She explains further, "Most people can use and combine the different senses. Those with cognitive disabilities often can't integrate the senses. As a result, they can become stressed, aggressive, hyperactive or passive." In response, Ofir has separated and concentrated each sensual experience. In order to maintain a cohesive garden, she created the concept of four corners. Each corner of the garden is devoted to a different sense - touch, sight, hearing and smell - yet the sections remain in close proximity to each other. In the touch corner, a young woman who usually uses a wheelchair takes off her shoes and, with the assistance of a helper, experiences the sensation of artificial grass and varying pavement textures under her feet. To her right, a man immerses himself in the silky, rubbery, dense and plastic ribbons that cascade down from the roof-like structure. The sight corner is visually busy yet calming. Two women, both partially visually impaired, gaze through the panels of colored glass, adding, perhaps, another meaning to the cliche about viewing the world through rose-colored glasses. A helper parks another young woman's wheelchair in front of a green and red spiral. Unable to communicate with words, she seems delighted and is smiling broadly as the spiral rotates. Eyal laughs as he recognizes a smell after scratching the smelling box on the sandpaper. "It's cinnamon!" he exclaims. And there are other smells, too - Ofir specifically designed the garden with non-toxic and non-poisonous indigenous plants, each relevant to a particular corner. In the smell corner, for example, she has planted plants that are particularly fragrant or pungent. David, who is deaf, wanders about unguided in the hearing corner. He rests his head on the metal objects that are resonating at different pitches, and feels the vibration of the sound. A mother has a whispered conversation with her son through underground pipes. Tamar plays on the pipe organ with table tennis bats. Ofir explains that the garden is intended to be simultaneously recreational, rehabilitative and therapeutic. Of the estimated 40,000 people with special needs in Jerusalem, many spend their days going straight from sheltered or guided workshops, therapy and classes to their homes and residences, never venturing outside for lengthy periods of time. This places not only unfair restrictions on the individual, but also impacts on family life, notes executive director of Elwyn Israel David B. Marcu, while a garden such as this one allows families and individuals to spend recreational time together. Marcu also explains that the garden "will develop and hone their senses," and "improve cognitive and motor abilities." This rehabilitative care is unusual, especially because it will be conducted outdoors. The work in the garden will be integrated into their program in the center. Sarah, 29, receives massage therapy. Her helper presses a textured ball across the length of her back. This stimulation can be replicated in the touch corner, where Sarah can rub her back against the brown and red massage beads. Yet unlike in the therapy class, in the garden there is "a sense of freedom and fun," says Marcu. Tova Pincas, director of the Adult Day Center, says that the Garden will "expose the visitors to situations that may frighten them, but in a controlled and protected environment." She describes a young man who is afraid to touch rough and textured surfaces or step in puddles and will cross roads to avoid them. In the garden, his exposure to these circumstances is guided and assisted, in the hope this will help to ease his fears and build his trust. The helpers will then be able to integrate this progress into his everyday life. Yet it is what Ofir refers to as the "sensitive line" which may be the garden's most important element. There is a tendency among the non-disabled to treat those with disabilities as if they are children, explains Marcu. But they are not children - they are adults with special needs, and treating them like children is offensive. "We wanted the garden to be beautiful, interactive and fun, without being childish. A happy place that was still relevant to those who will use it," Ofir concurs. The garden is unique because it addresses four senses (excluding the fifth sense, taste.) Other sensory gardens have been built in Israel and throughout the world but they address one sense, or, at most, two. Most such gardens are built primarily for individuals with visual impairments, while this garden is built specifically for people with cognitive and physical disabilities. Others are recreational but not rehabilitative and therapeutic, or do not include interactive equipment. Rani Oliver, parent of 29-year-old Lior, says, "My daughter and her friends can't communicate the way we do. I would like to express my appreciation to the Jerusalem Foundation and the Manson family. Now they will be able to enjoy the outdoors, too. And in such a beautiful place." She pauses, then adds, "When we help the weak and needy, we create a better society."

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