Students with Physical Disabilities
-Not all students with physical disabilities present themselves in the same way, so techniques and strategies must often be customized for optimal benefit. Customizing may require extra preparatory materials, special adaptations or modifications, and adaptive equipment. Extra assistance from a paraprofessional or other personnel assigned to assist in the educational process of the child may also be needed.
-Students bring different learning styles, tolerance levels, and personal preferences, all of which impact the overall learning environment.
-Art teachers who continually “check the climate” of the classroom can make adaptations or modifications to help all their students succeed. An adaptation is when the art teacher changes the tools, media, or lesson plan to meet a certain goal. On the other hand, a modification is the art teacher's way of changing the process or product to achieve a certain level of competence for a particular student.
-Just as there are no set ways to teach the use of watercolors, there is no specific set of strategies that will always work for a student with a physical impairment. Frances Anderson, in Art for all the Children (1992), states, “A simple prescription for an art program is not the goal. This is in fact, an impossibility. The goal, rather, is for the reader to learn from these examples (of strategies) and to go forward from them to develop his own series of appropriate creative endeavors”
-Many of these physical disabilities are degenerative, so periodic monitoring will be needed to see that the interventions and strategies designed to help the student are still working.
- The occupational therapist can also help teachers develop activities that relate to fine motor and visual motor skills (Bigg, et al., 2001).
-‘The student's physical limitations may affect his fine motor skills, the small muscle movements in the hands and fingers that are needed to hold on to and control art tools and media. . These are the large muscle movements in the forearm and upper arm that are used to lift and move art tools and media, and in the legs, to get to and gather materials or cleanup at the sink.
-These students may continue to receive OT or PT services as part of their Individual Educational Plan (IEP), so a current level of functioning and adaptive strategies may already be in place. ‘The IEP is developed by a team that includes the student's classroom teacher, support staff, and parents/guardian.
Motor Challenges in the Classroom
A list of the possible challenges a student with physical disabilities may present in the art room includes the following:
Fine motor skill challenges will:
-Affect the ability to grasp and hold on to pencils, markers, crayons, paintbrushes, clay tools, printmaking tools, etc. and to control their placement on the art surface.
-Affect the ability to hold and use scissors, and to hold scissors in a “thumbs up” traditional way. e Affect the ability to turn over paint or glue bottles, and squeeze out an appropriate amount or place.
- Affect the ability to hold a book or handout and turn its pages.
-Affect the ability for two handed activities—holding an art media container and then opening it for use, for example, twisting the cap, lifting the cap, also wrapping wire or fibers, holding art media securely while working on it, or folding the materials. e Affect the ability for weaving paper or fibers, stitching with needles, grasping/ manipulating small items (paper pieces, beads, threads, or jewelry findings).
Gross motor skill challenges will:
-Affect the ability to reach for art tools, media, and the art surface.
-Affect the ability to lift sculpture materials, and reading materials due to the weight and shape of the materials.
-Affect the ability to lift an art tool from the art surface (paper, canvas, etc.) and return it to the palette, water container, or box to replenish or change colors/materials and back to the art surface in a coordinated and purposeful way.
-Affect the ability to reach into the sink for water or cleanup activities.
-Affect the ability to reach up to ask or answer questions.
Upper torso concerns (student's head, upper torso, shoulders, and at times, arms are restricted by safety harnesses) will:
-Affect the ability to move the head to look down or up at the work surface or materials.
- Affect the ability to move the upper body and restrict gross movement ability to work on the table surface provided. e Affect the stability of the student to lean toward or away from the work area to engage in the task.
-Affect the ability to control hand movement to work on and complete art tasks. Student may have tremors of the hands or spastic, uncontrolled arm flailing that can affect the artwork or send materials flying off the workspace.
Lower body concerns (student has difficulty walking unless assisted by walker, crutches, wheelchair, or assistant) will:
-Affect the student's ability to be mobile in areas where peers can go, and activities such as passing out or collecting supplies or artworks, and some group activities.
-Affect the ability to sit in traditional classroom seats, desks, stools, or on the floor. Table height may not be appropriate or high enough to fit knees underneath, or to get the student near peers.
-Affect the ability to access materials, sink, artwork, and media storage areas, or the potter’s wheels for clay throwing.
-Affect the ability to engage in certain activities due to the size and space needed for the support adaptations, for example, a power wheelchair with a tray and communication device.
As new media and tasks are introduced, the art teacher can develop new strategies for these experiences.
- The student must be allowed to discover the mode of creating with which he is satisfied. A goal for the student is to understand that he is involved in the art making and the artwork tells his story.
- It is difficult to ponder the potential of persons with physical disabilities who were seldom given the opportunity to make decisions, to learn from their mistakes, and to risk new ideas.
-But motivation about an art task can be increased when the student feels involved in the decision-making.
-The student's goals should be designed with that particular student's needs in mind.
-Student made and artist works inspire. They should be used but care needs to be taken to help students form their personal ideas before beginning the artistic process. Writing about, making lists, finding pictures, and talking to others about their ideas before starting are all helpful.
- Glue sticks come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and even with colored glue so the student can see where the glue is being placed. One concern about using glue sticks is that some students like to raise the glue inside the stick as high as they can and then try to use it.
-This practice creates a glob of glue that doesn't go back into the stick, thus defeating the purpose of the glue stick. Some students may push down too hard on the exposed glue and again, glob it instead of lightly spreading it.
-That way, the glue is more controlled and students won't end up with glue globs sticking out from the art project. A number of art teachers use large gluing bottles so that they need to be refilled less often. This can be a good solution for students with large hands. Clean mustard, ketchup, honey, or other plastic containers work well for glue refills. Their tops vary from twist types, like a regular glue top, to an open hole in a small cap. If the art activity requires a great deal of gluing, these larger containers may be useful. A note about the consistency of glues: Elmer's Glue makes a variety of glue thicknesses that can make a difference in the success of the art activity; regular Elmer’s has a nice flow, which can be a little fast for some students.
-Cutting Activities Changing the shape of materials such as paper or fabric usually involves the use of scissors. Finding just the right cutting device for students can take time and effort, but the pleasure of independence or cutting with minimal help is worth it. There are a variety of scissors that can accommodate almost any hand size or shape, digit number, operating mode, or weight issue that a student presents. Scissors now come in a variety of styles.
A variety of scissors can be found in art supply catalogues such as Sax™ Arts and Crafts and Nasco™ Arts and Crafts (addresses at end of chapter).
Other scissors. In Japan, a large handled scissors has evolved from the art of bonsai tree growing. These scissors have oversized handles that work quite well for students with large hands, such as those with Down syndrome, moderate cognitive disabilities, or hands that are angled differently due to surgery.
The large loops allow easy access to the scissors and a more comfortable grip. The blades on these scissors are often short, but can be blunt or pointed. Shorter blades can reduce the number of “Oops!” cuts as the student can only make a cut about an inch and a half long. Loop scissors are designed to assist the cutter in the motor action of “open/close” by having a loop on the end of the scissors that is an extension of the handles.
The loop reopens the scissors each time pressure is taken off the handles. This action creates a muscle memory experience that is repeated each time the student uses the scissors. Even if students don’t understand the process of cutting, the scissors help them “feel” the motion. However, some loop scissors do not have traditional scissors’ handle loops, just long narrow handles. This lack of a loop doesn't give the student's hand enough direction for properly holding onto a scissors and may result in cuts or pinches.
PETA™ Loop scissors from England have a long loop on the bottom of the scissors that give the hand more direction and make the scissor easier to use. Other loop scissors do have traditional scissors loops with the longer loop attached to the back, and have been successfully used with some students. Care must be taken when giving scissors to students, but special care is needed with these loop scissors because the blades are always in the open position, even when not in use. Handing the scissors to another person can be safely accomplished by first, putting the scissors guard on the blades and then, handing the scissors by the loop.
This system minimizes the potential of grasping the scissors by the blades, which could result in a major cut and stitches. The precautions are worth taking because these scissors have been found to be more comfortable and to ease fatigue during long cutting activities. They are useful for everyone. The most comfortable scissors are the Fiskars™ SoftTouch Spring Scissors. These scissors have the “open/close” repeat action in a small spring usually located at the center, where the blades meet.
This is a “hidden adaptation” for students who may be sensitive to adaptations made for them. The spring action is usually stronger than the loop scissors. These scissors come with very long, pointed blades, as well as a Microtip version which is shorter, and in blunt or pointed versions. A small release lever allows the scissors to open for use and to be safely put away when the activity is over. Fiskars has a lifetime guarantee on their scissors and they cut fabric very well. Be sure to have enough of these scissors in an inclusive setting because all the students l
-he Impressionist style of painting often inspires students. The dabs of color make it easy for them to create their own versions. With the ideas and theme of the Impressionists in mind, art teachers may want to begin painting activities with a limited palette of warm or cool colors or to select harmonious colors to use. This strategy will teach color mixing and prevent all the colors ending up a shade of brown.
-As each new art task or medium is presented, new challenges arise. In time and with experience, adaptations will become easier for the art teacher to develop and implement. As noted many times, developing adaptations actually makes the task easier for students, both with and without physical disabilities. Students who do not require adaptive scissors, for example, often find that the loop or spring scissors are really more comfortable and cut better that those usually provided in the art class.
Having both kinds available for all the students can reduce the stigma of the “handicapped scissors” used only by certain students. The term “universal design’ describes spaces, furniture, and tools that are designed for everyone's comfort and ease of use, not just persons with disabilities.
Art teachers can offer tools and materials of universal design to equalize the art experience for everyone.
-For students struggling to fit in with their peers, working with an alternative art tool, accepted and desired by peers, is a great opportunity not to feel different.
To understand some of the issues involved, participants in this activity will use a sheet of paper to: (1) write and print their names, holding a pen or pencil in their mouths; and (2) write and print their names, this time holding the writing tool between their toes. Hands should be placed behind the participant’s back. Afterwards, a discussion should address the following questions: Which method was easier or more comfortable? How could this process be adapted to make holding the writing tool more comfortable? What adaptations would make using the paper easier? Which method produced the best results?
Myungja Anna Koh