Focusing Arts and Crafts on Ability, Not Disability
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June 2003 | Vol. II - No. 6

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Focusing Arts and Crafts on Ability, Not Disability

For educators struggling to find activities for children of all abilities, art provides an accessible way to tap into the cathartic powers of creativity and learning. An especially valuable tool for disabled children.

“Art is something that everyone can do,” says educator and artist Colin Smith. “It focuses more on ability than disability because anyone can put a mark on paper or canvas.”

Colin runs the art program at Noble Park Special Development School in Victoria, Australia. The school offers educational programs for students aged 5 to18 years old who have moderate to profound disabilities. Colin’s hands-on approach with his students leads to creative, individual results.

“The benefits to art are endless,” says Colin. “Art allows my students to express themselves in a creative way, with few rules and demands. It relieves stress and is a huge self-esteem boost because it’s something that my students can do. In a world where the disabled get a lot of feedback about what they cannot do, this is very important.”

For disabled artist Lori Schmitt, who lost the use of her hands and now paints holding the brush in her mouth, art has opened up a world of expression. “Painting has greatly helped my self-esteem,” says Schmitt. “I never thought my artwork would come as far as it has. When I sold my first painting, I was so thrilled that it led me to further express myself through my website.”

Studies have shown that from the beginning of a disabled child’s education to adulthood, art enhances both personal and academic success. For example, for a person who cannot communicate effectively through words, a painting rich with color and life may say more than a spoken sentence ever could.

Tribal Rainsticks Pack

Organizations such as Arts & Services for Disabled Inc. in California and Pot a Doodle Do in England offer arts and crafts to the disabled community. According to the mission statement for Arts & Services for the Disabled, “the success of our programs has enabled individuals to advance to greater levels of personal achievement, feel valued as contributing community members and even to become successfully employed.”


Materials and Where to Buy Them

Hands-on projects that use large crayons and brushes, finger paint, fabrics, textured material or clay are the most beneficial because they stimulate nerve endings that, in turn, send a positive response to the brain as well as enhance fine-motor skills.

Adaptive Grip Brush

S&S Worldwide offers specialty catalogs that include craft and therapy kits. The Youth Craft Bulk Pack ($415.99) contains enough materials to create over 1,000 projects out of 15 different craft materials. Or, if you prefer a project-oriented kit, try the Tribal Rainsticks Pack (packs of four, $34.99). For self-hardening clay that air-dries to a hard finish without firing, try Plastirock Air Dry Clay (4.5 lb. tub, $10.99).

Easi-Grip Scissors

For painting, offers the Adaptive Grip Brush ($2.99), whose large wooden ball handle is perfect for those with limited hand movement. For crafts, the Easi-Grip Scissors ($7.49) have a continuous-loop plastic handle that is operated by squeezing gently with the thumb and fingers, or the fingers and the palm of the hand.



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