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.
- 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.
- 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:
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.