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What inclusive, accessible arts education looks like

Playing music, drawing and painting, making tactile sculptures of clay and cardboard — making art accessible helps kids with disabilities in many ways.

A boy feels a tactile piece of art while his teacher looks on.

The arts play a huge role in educating children with visual impairments and multiple disabilities. 

Whether through music, drawing and painting, or anything else, they help kids express themselves, build social and communication skills, and bond with their peers. The arts are often used in important clinical and therapeutic work too, which is why it’s important to embrace the arts in all forms! 

But you know what we love most about the arts? You don’t need to be a professional artist to make art accessible to children with disabilities. In fact, like all great art, making it accessible just requires a little bit of creativity from families and teachers. 

4 tips for making art and music more accessible

  1. Use what you already have! In many cases, art and music are already accessible! You don’t need a special box of crayons or a specialized piano to help a child with a disability draw or explore music. The crayons and piano used and enjoyed by kids without disabilities can be enjoyed and used by kids with all sorts of impairments. But that’s not a hard and fast rule. For some kids, holding a crayon might be difficult, or they might struggle to push down a key on a piano. The key is to never assume a child’s abilities!
  1. Implement simple adaptations that can help kids explore the arts if some of those typical, inaccessible supplies. For example, who says you need a paintbrush to paint? Things like toy cars that can be pushed without much exertion or grip, sponges, or even hands can all be used as alternatives to paint brushes! There are also all sorts of different adaptive and easy grip brushes for kids who might have difficulty gripping a traditional paintbrush.
  1. Explore tactile art by thinking in 3D! For kids with visual impairments, it may be difficult to create and engage with two-dimensional art. Working with clay, cardboard or velcro, making textural collages and incorporating scented materials are just a few of the many ways you can make art more accessible. Besides, great art should transcend its medium! So why not make it multi-sensory?
  1. Study the greats. When it comes to music, well there’s no shortage of famous musicians who have had visual impairments! But for some kids, finger and hand placement might be challenging if they can’t see the instrument clearly. Positioning strips made of velcro can be used a lot to guide hand placement — and they’re in fact used a lot in our own music department!

Why are the arts so important in special education? 

The arts are a means of self expression, and that alone makes them hugely important when educating children with disabilities. But we’re not just talking about creative self expression. The very process of creating also builds vital life skills like communication, socializing and even physical mobility!

  1. When working alongside others, kids need to learn to share things. So the activity of creating art, where kids might be sharing crayons, will help them learn behaviorally-appropriate ways for asking for what they want. This process also helps them understand that they sometimes have to share what they have. 
  1. The art itself can also be communicative. A child with limited communication skills might, for example, learn to play loud and fast on a piano to show excitement. 
  1. Music can build physical skills, too! If a child with mobility challenges can build the strength and orientation to reach out for a drumstick, or tap keys on a piano, they might then be able to use those skills when reaching out for a spoon, or learning to type on a computer. 
Kevin plays the drums during a class.

Our approach to teaching and making the arts accessible

Everything we do ties into our Expanded Core Curriculum, a unique and highly individualized set of life skills we mesh into all academic learning. 

Basically, the Expanded Core Curriculum ensures that every individual lesson carries lessons, plural. For example, a math teacher might show a student how to count quarters. They then might complement that work by applying the skill to navigating a laundromat — a real life use for the ability to count change. 

This applies to the arts, too! All of the different skills outlined above support critical areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum, including:

A boy feels a tactile palm tree on display during the annual Deafblind Art Show
A student feels a tactile palm tree art project.

You can be an advocate for accessible arts!

As a parent: Communicate with your child’s teachers about the importance of having some accessible and sensory art supplies alongside the paintbrushes and crayons that are likely already there. Collect some for the home too! 
For other advocates: The best way to ensure more children receive the arts education they deserve — and the arts education that provides building blocks for so many other necessary life skills — is to get involved in our work.

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