Art education for Students who are blind or visually impaired by Stuart H.Wittenstein and Janet M.Sovin
The arts program can enhance all areas of development and access for students who are visually impaired.
Nelson and Dimitrova(1993) estimated that in 1990 in the United States there were 95,410 children and youth under the age of 18(0.2%) who were severely visually impaired.
Understanding and meeting educational needs
The Sight-Loss Support Group of Central Pennsylvania (Drosnes & Scanlon, 1998). This organization produced a training manual, “Festival Eyes,’ for teachers, museum educators, and others who make the arts accessible to those with visual impairments. It must, however, be remembered that a sighted person going through such simulations can rely on their accurate visual memory and the knowledge that the simulation may be discontinued at any time.
Braille is a tactile system of raised dots designed for reading and writing by blind individuals. The basic unit of the Braille Code is the cell, which is composed of six dots. Various combinations of these dots are used to represent print letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and also whole words and combinations of letters. Because there are only so many ways to configure six dots, some of the symbols have more than one use. Rules have been established to help the reader understand how the Braille symbols are used in the reading or writing context.
* ‘The Braille Code was invented in the early 19th century by Louis Braille, then a student at the first school for the blind in Paris. Braille modified a system of code “night writing,” which was intended for use by the military. The development of this system by Louis Braille is now recognized as the most important single development in making it possible for blind individuals to access the printed word.
The Expanded Core Curriculum
There are experiences casually and incidentally learned by sighted students that must be systematically and sequentially taught to the student who is visually impaired. The core curriculum for students who are visually impaired is not the same as for sighted students. Indeed, it is much larger and more complex. (Hatlen, 1996)
Billboards and street signs, people working or commuting to work, photographs, paintings, television shows, faces of friends and family—things that are so common and taken for granted, are not available to the young child who is blind. Think, for example, of concept development. Most of the things sighted children learn come to them through their vision so the idea that a child might not have access to all of this visual information may seem tragic. People who have never met a child with a visual impairment may imagine that child in only one dimension. They may see that child as a person who is reacting only to a loss, and not as someone who is learning about a world full of sounds, tastes, textures, or visual forms that are perceived in different ways.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has been interpreted by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS, 2000) to guide public policy in the education of students who are blind or visually impaired.
According to OSERS, additional factors should be considered in the development of the Individual Education Program (IEP) to facilitate access to the general education curriculum for these students.
‘These factors include: compensatory skills including concept development, communication skills, Braille reading, and listening modalities; social interaction Chapter 8/Page 129 skills; recreation and leisure skills; daily living skills; orientation and mobility skills; career education; assistive technology; self determination; and for students with low vision, visual efficiency skills.
‘The art teacher has important allies to help meet the needs of students who are blind or visually impaired, the teachers of students with visual disabilities.
These educators are specifically trained to provide experiences needed to compensate for a lack of visual input. They are colleagues, who are based in the schools, with the expertise to provide specific recommendations for students with visual impairments. These teaching colleagues can provide the art teacher with valuable information about the student's functional vision, learning styles, conceptual development, tactile skills, and previous experiences.
Various types of materials are available to assist teachers of students who have visual disabilities present materials to their students. Some of these materials may be useful to the art teacher. For example, the teacher of the blind will have access to a catalog of materials produced by the American Printing House for the Blind, Materials from this catalog are available through the Federal Quota Fund program and do not use local funds. Among these materials are tactile graphics kits, tangible graphs, aluminum diagramming foil, bold line paper, embossed pencil writing paper (raised, as well as bold lines), bold and embossed graph paper, and teachers’ guides like “Teaching Touch”
Understanding the Tactile Aesthetic
Blind people, with no known vision since birth and no known experience with pictures, and found that they could often recognize raised line sketches with their questing fingertips. An educator of blind children would want to know, the better to judge how to communicate ideas about objects, places, and shapes in school lessons. (Kennedy, 1993) For art educators there appear to be two distinct and quite different issues regarding students who are blind or have low vision. If the goal is to convey art information to children who are blind, there is much good research available about how to present such information in tactile formats and how to teach children who are blind to gather information with accuracy and efficiency.
‘When the goal is also to provide the aesthetic experiences that most children access visually, the challenge is much more complex. As previously mentioned, students who are blind and visually impaired have a wide range of sensory abilities, but they have one important commonality—their vision is so severely " impaired that it interferes with their access to environmental information. It is, therefore, critical that all teachers help students develop the use of their other senses to gather important environmental information. The art curriculum provides many opportunities for such development.
A work of art might not “look right” to the sighted viewer, but may very well “feel right” to the tactual artist and reviewer.
Museum experiences provide visual information to the sighted viewer, but the “don't touch” rule requires modification for students with visual impairments. Some museums have provisions to allow students with visual impairments to touch selected works of art. Others have adapted their texts and materials to make exhibits accessible to those with visual impairments (Sanchez & McGinnis, 2003).
Ex: At the Children’s Art Museum in Oakland. The art show featured ceramic pieces, wood sculptures, collages, prints, and paintings done by children and young adults who are blind, visually impaired, and/or multiply disabled.
Art at the California School for the Blind
The Individual Education Plan (IEP) Art activities at the California School for the Blind are geared to each student's developmental level. As art therapists, we work with classroom teachers to address specific IEP goals for the students through art.
The IEP goals can include an array of activities that are tied to the Expanded Core Curriculum, such as improving body concepts, self-image, eye hand coordination, socialization, language and communication. Some examples of these IEP goals are:
1. Mary will participate 50% of the time in a small group clay project while sitting at the clay table with three other students.
2. Andy will use ten new words for the names of materials he uses in the art room by the end of the semester.
3. By making a variety of facemasks, Joey will be able to identify his facial features 100% of the time by June.
‘The art program at the California School for the Blind is used to facilitate students abilities to function at their best in the world. It is important to note that our primary concern is with process, not a finished product. Our goal is to facilitate student expression rather than the production of teacher-directed projects.
Art teachers in most schools can expect that an orientation and mobility instructor has already taught the students who are blind protective arm techniques (holding one arm in front of their face and another in front of their chest) for use in unfamiliar environments. Ask to be sure. Still, students should be kept informed and updated, both physically and verbally, of any changes in the placement of furniture or art supplies so that they feel secure in navigating through their working environment.
Art Curriculum and Media
An essential competency for a child who is blind is learning how to use his or her fine motor skills to explore the world. Not only is this critical for concept development, but for Braille literacy as well.
Blind children do not have natural tactile abilities. This is a stereotype. Fine motor and tactile skills need to be taught and the art curriculum is a perfect place to teach these lessons. Many kinds of materials are used in our art room.
Materials should not be toxic or present a choking hazard. We might add that it is wise to be aware of any allergies students may have and if they have a history of seizures. As previously mentioned, many of students with visual disabilities have additional disabilities and other health issues. Parents also prefer that we use washable glue and paints that don't stain clothes.
We have become expert recyclers and keep our eyes open for usable items that an be glued, put together, or broken down and recreated. The city of Oakland, ‘California has a wonderful resource for “stuff.” It’s called the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse and caters to artists, teachers, and anyone who needs materials, from yogurt containers to surplus zippers.
Another activity that addresses fine motor skills involves tearing newspapers into strips and gluing them onto a large piece of cardboard (cut from the side of a big box). But, when children don’t know how to tear properly, they have a tendency to grab the paper with both hands and pull outward away from themselves.
We also save the large Styrofoam packing pieces that come with computers or other large appliances because they can be stacked and glued together to form big, lightweight sculptures. Many of these pieces are in irregular shapes and have empty spaces within their framework that can inspire all kinds of imaginative play.
Clays are appropriate developmental materials that involve sensory motor learning. They are also fluid and messy materials and therefore can be regressive. For children who have a high tactile defensiveness or who have been abused, clay may even be frightening. Memories of bodily injury and abuse can be aroused. One may use alternative materials and methods of experiencing clay. Play dough can be made by mixing equal parts of salt and flour and adding water to make a dough consistency. The dough can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a couple of days. If it becomes too moist, more flour can be added. Crayola™ Model Magic clay is another alternative that can be purchased at art stores or from catalogues.
Developing a body image, a sense of identity, is of foremost concern for the student who is blind and visually impaired. An understanding and awareness of one’s body is necessary for a healthy self-image. We use body tracings because they are fun to do and help children learn about themselves. We place a large sheet of paper on the floor, a l ittle longer than the height of the student, and have the student lie down on it. While this is a familiar activity, we add a verbal component for our students. We start by asking the student to move a part of their body, for example, to wiggle his toes or blink his eyes. Meanwhile, we trace the outline of the student's body with a marker pen or crayon. We continue talking to the student and focusing on different body parts as we move the marker pen around.
Through thoughtful interactions and questions, the art teacher can engage students in discussions and interpretation of art. Small artworks can be purchased, borrowed, or received through donations to enhance students’ understanding of art and to integrate art learning with non-art subject matter.
A number of artists have had visual disabilities. Among them, “Claude Monet had cataracts ... so did Mary Cassatt. She was also a diabetic. Vincent Van Gogh had glaucoma. Edgar Degas began to lose his vision in his thirties.” (Axel e& Levent, 2003)
Myungja Anna Koh