Why disabled pupils should be encouraged to take Art

Today I want to talk about something that I’ve been thinking about for a while that I now want to try to explain, if only in an attempt to refine my thoughts on it.

When choosing my GCSE subjects at school, I was strongly advised against doing Art because it would be too much work for me.  While there was probably a lot of truth in this, it sent out a very different message to me – that I just wasn’t good enough.  That because of my disability I wasn’t capable of creating something with my hands that would be any good.

I will never know how much, or how little, this view contributed to the real reason for me being advised not to do Art, but even if it was a very small contribution perhaps the view that schools have of disabled pupils today needs adjusting.

School should be a place of encouragement, a place to grow and explore one’s capabilities.  Disabled pupils, just like all other pupils, should be encouraged to explore their own capabilities and be given the space to find ways around any physical limitations they may have.

I used to LOVE being creative, and as you’ll see from my previous blog about crochet, I still do.   In my first few years at secondary school I drew many pictures of Disney characters, and had a go at drawing simple cartoons too.  I also loved sewing.

However, I was really embarrassed to admit to these hobbies to anyone at school.  I was disabled, surely they’d think me ridiculous to even THINK I could do anything creative with my hands that would be any good?  I had this image of myself as someone who wasn’t capable of doing anything properly that involved any physical input, and I guess school re-enforced this image by steering me away from taking Art, even though the reason given was that it would be ‘too much work’.

Could I have done Art at GCSE, though?   According to the AQA website, GCSE Art and Design:

‘provides students with a wide range of creative, exciting and stimulating opportunities to explore their interests in ways that are both personally relevant and developmental in nature.’

This description suggests that physical ability doesn’t enter the equation when it comes to studying Art for two reasons.

  1. Disability doesn’t necessarily limit creativity; at most a physical disability may lead a pupil down a different but equally creative path depending on how the disability affects them. Even if the pupil has a disability that affects their hands, they may still be very capable of drawing, painting and creating art through many other mediums.
  2. Disability does not prevent a pupil from developing a project in their own way and basing these projects on something that is relevant to them; in fact, disability could come into their artwork. While my pre-GCSE creations were not up to GCSE standard, through taking Art I could’ve developed my techniques just as any other pupil does.

Due my cerebral palsy I have difficulty with fine motor skills, but that didn’t stop me from drawing this picture two years ago:

Drawing of Jennie & Chris

Discouraging pupils from taking Art could re-enforce a false image they already have of themselves being ‘unable’ to do certain things and therefore not equivalent to their peers.  Is this how we want young disabled people to see themselves as they grow up?

Schools should encourage disabled pupils to explore their own capabilities and, where necessary, to find ways round any limitations they may have.  Removing options isn’t the solution as it only narrows the path they think they can travel.   Let them figure out what they’re capable of; they might just surprise you.

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Crochet Fingers

I’ve always liked a challenge, so it’ll be no surprise to many of you that when the opportunity presented itself in May this year to have a go at crochet, I got stuck in!  Like with many things, though, I needed to adapt the process so I could do it more easily, because I just don’t have the dexterity they had when they created crochet.

Before I go into that, though, what is crochet?  That’s the question I asked…after I said I wanted to give it a go.  Say I’ll do it, figure out how to later – that’s how I live.

Anyway, as I was saying, crochet is a handicraft using a single hook and some yarn.  You can crochet a wide range of items, from blankets to soft toys to clothing and much more.  The possibilities seem endless!

Normally you hold the hook in your dominant hand and handle the yarn in your other hand.  Stitches are created by wrapping the yarn around the hook so it can then be pulled through the loop(s) already on the hook.  The hook needs to be twisted during this process.
2. Yarn wrapped round hook 3. Yarn pulled through loop already on hook4. Completed stitch

After a few of the most basic stitch, the chain stitch, it should look something like this…

5. Row of six chain stitches

The first time I picked up a crochet hook I found that I couldn’t hold or twist it very easily because I lack fine motor skills.  The long, thin shape of the hook makes it awkward for me to hold, so to compensate for this I had to grip it very tightly, which caused a lot of tension in my hand and it became painful very quickly.

Such minor obstacles didn’t deter me, though.  I realised I needed to find a way to keep the hook still, and angled up and away from me, so I could just handle the yarn.  The idea then dawned on me to stick it onto an A4 file, which I could have in front of me with the spine facing away to give me the angle I needed.

I suspected I’d be pulling on the yarn a fair bit so quite a lot of cellotape was needed to make sure the hook stayed in one place!  The folder also needed to be kept still, so I tried sticking it to the table but found this too high for comfort.  Sitting on the sofa with the folder on a non-slip lap tray was much more comfortable.

Now all I had to do was work the yarn around the hook, by wrapping it round with one hand and moving what I’d already crocheted over the end of the hook with my other hand.

1. Hook stuck on folder with yarn wrapped round  2. Row of chain stitches being pulled over hook

I was right about the amount of cellotape needed – I pull on both the yarn and the item-in-the-making fairly hard so I can achieve what I need to (so much so it needed to be re-stuck three months after I started in May, and really needs doing again now…).

Now, this blog wouldn’t be complete without telling you what I’m making!

I’ve started with a relatively simple (but definitely not small) project, a granny square blanket.  Simple because you make lots of small squares over and over again that you then join together to make your blanket.  I learnt the way anyone learns to do anything these days, on YouTube!  I used a fantastic tutorial created by blogger and crochet YouTuber Bella Coco, which you can find here.  She’s done lots of tutorials so if you already crochet and want some fresh ideas check out her channel!

I’ve chosen three colours (pink, purple and turquoise) and I love the way they go together.  My first few squares were single colours, but then I experimented with a pink and purple square, and it just snowballed into this…

Nine completed  multicoloured squares with white borders

There are FAR too many possible combinations for me to stick to just a few, especially as this is a ‘trial’ blanket that I can have a bit of fun with, so I’ve decided to do as many combinations as take my fancy before putting them all together at the end!  I’ve been reeeaaaally tempted to start joining them, but I’m trying to be patient so that I can move them around when I’ve done them all and get the colour balance right.  I will eventually have a blanket for my sofa, but perhaps not by this winter, especially as I’m working on a cross stitch project at the same time!

What I love about crochet is being able to create something from scratch and know that it is ALL through my effort, down to the colours and the way they’re put together, so I love seeing my squares grow and multiply!  I also enjoy it as something completely different to the cross stitch I’m doing, where I’m following a pattern and all the colours are there for me.

My blanket is just the beginning of my crochet journey and I can’t wait to get stuck into some of the many other projects I’ve seen.  It’ll be an exciting challenge working out how to handle bigger projects around my hook, as well as joining my squares as the blanket grows.  I should probably finish at least one of my current projects first though…