Teaching a class that includes students with physical disabilities or impairments is an obvious difficulty for a teacher of any subject. Think for a minute, though, about the specific difficulties that arise for art teachers who have to modify almost every aspect of their lesson plans and their classrooms for these students. These are difficulties that no teacher should have personal opposition to addressing, but they are problem areas, nonetheless. There is an excellent article written by Zederayko and Ward that talks about the problems that art teachers come across. Even more so, the article talks about the fact that art is one of the only educational subjects that has the "capacity to engage all students, regardless of physical, emotional, or developmental abilities." For this reason, it is essential that all students are able to participate in art class.
It is more than possible that an art teacher may have students in their classes that cannot even hold a pencil or a paintbrush, making necessary the usage of aids who will "do" the students' artwork for them. This obviously does not allow the students to actively participate along with their peers. This article says that when students with physical disabilities are forced to allow an aid to do their artwork for them (or to write their essays or do their long division) they begin to feel passive and depressed, more focused on their failures than on looking forward to new challenges. Teachers need to understand that by making the necessary changes and adaptations to their lessons and classrooms, they are providing disabled students with their right to both develop and express themselves fully. Here is an interesting fact: art is one of the subjects of which access is REQUIRED for disabled students in IDEA (which also includes a requirement of access to consumer/ homemaking/ industrial/ vocational education and music).
For this reason, teachers are thus required to come up with strategies and techniques to deal with individual problems in class; these stragies include adaptations to both lessons and the physical environment of classrooms. Zederayko and Ward give some suggestions, including lowering or raising tables for students in wheelchairs, providing lap-boards for students who cannot reach tables, putting larger handles on tools (such as on crayons), simplifying directions, etc. They also stress that art teachers should disregard trying to find the "appropriate" activity that will include the whole class, but should instead consider what skills are needed in each activity. In addition, the article discusses in more detail one tool that the authors developed for one student in particular who was physically disabled. They first created a wristband for a student who could not hold a pencil, and then using this new creation and observing how it did NOT function properly on a second student, they created a new drawing tool (of which they include the "ingredients," directions, and prices in their article) so that the student could draw by himself without the help of his aid. The article describes his joy and newfound feeling of accomplishment, caused by a device that was made for less than $4.
This article is an inspirational read, telling its readers about the value of a little experimentation and creativity and how simple tools can affect a student's outlook on his or her own creativity and future successes. It encourages all teachers to make the necessary changes in order to include students who have physical disabilities, and give them the opportunities to actively participate in their education.
Zederayko, Michelle Wiebe and Kelly Ward. Art Class: What to Do When Students Can't Hold a Pencil. Art Education. Teaching Art as if the World Mattered, VO : 52. NO : 4, Teaching Art as if the World Mattered. Jul., 1999. PP : 18-22. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0004-3125%28199907%2952%3A4%3C18%3AACWTDW%3E2.0.CO%3B2-7.
Copyright 1999 National Art Education Association