National Federation of the Blind
the Creativity of Blind and Visually Impaired Students
By Chris Kuell
Melissa, a willowy sixth-grader,
sits at her art class table meticulously picking through a bag of pebbles
to find just the right ones. The assignment is to create a landscape from
the various materials and glue the teacher has provided. The student creates
a cliff overlooking a river on the left side of her paper with the pebbles
she's chosen. A river of thick blue paint soon flows over the cliff, creating
a vibrant waterfall. She pastes on a short beach area with sandpaper and
makes a few bushes with a felt material. A thin, cotton-ball cloud decorates
the sky, and the final touch is a cat cut from foam, settled in on the
beach to enjoy the scenery.
Melissa's picture is warmly
received by her classmates, who also want to share their projects with
her. As she runs her hands over a friend's art work, he explains that
it's a winter mountain top and he's skiing down the slope.
"There is no bigger thrill
than figuring out a cool new way to adapt an art project," says Verna
O'Donnell, a paraprofessional with a passion for art that she shares with
students and teachers alike.
Eight years ago Verna was asked
to help at the pre-school her daughters had attended. The school had a
blind student, and knew Verna could figure out a way to allow the child
to participate in art projects.
Unfortunately, Melissa didn't
share her new teacher's enthusiasm. "It wasn't easy to win her over,"
O'Donnell said. "But after a good deal of trial and error she was
hooked. We came up with ways to keep her hands clean so she could 'see',
and added textures and scents to projects. The changes were met with a
lot of excitement from her classmates which helped sway her."
"Many of the students
think about making their classroom art projects accessible. Some students
have come to me for advice on ways to make their drawings tactile. Several
students have learned some Braille as well. It is amazing to me how such
a small thing can alter the way people look at the world."
O'Donnell has expanded her
passion for bringing art to blind students by teaching classes and special
workshops for the NFB of Connecticut, the summer program at the OakHill
School in Hartford, and at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown,
She doesn't use text books
or internet sources for planning art projects. Instead, she relies on
her creativity and imagination.
Some of O'Donnell's favorite
projects include decorating masks, which lets the student's personalities
shine, and creating landscapes like Melissa's waterfall and beach scene.
Imaginary landscapes are best because they open the doors for discussions
about books and stories and places they've dreamed about.
O'Donnell believes that when a blind or visually impaired child participates on equal terms in art class, generally considered a visual process, they become empowered to participate in other areas that might be thought of as off limits. She encourages art teachers to welcome the opportunity to work with blind and visually impaired students. "Don't get locked into one approach to something because that is a guarantee it will not work. Anything can be adapted. Relax and have fun!"
Some suggestions for the
blind student's art cabinet:
Craft foam with adhesive backing - the child can create shapes and stick them down without getting frustrated by glue. It is a great way to get them started. If they aren't good with scissors, you can cut the shapes or purchase ready-made foam shapes.
Regular craft foam is very useful in teaching drawing. Lay a thick piece of paper over the top of craft foam and draw. You will end up with a raised line drawing that is a mirror image of the original.
Hot glue gun - The fastest way to make raised lines. Great for outlining drawings they need to paint or color in. They draw, you hot glue the lines.
Fabric scraps of various textures - felt, fur, lace, and assorted trims.
Assorted natural materials - pebbles, small shells, twigs and dirt are all great for landscapes.
Art Beyond Sight is a one-stop
resource for bringing art and culture to people with visual impairments.
The Crafters Division of the
National Federation of the Blind holds on-line classes, discussions, shares
project ideas, etcetera.
The following is a home-schooling
site with project ideas for parents of blind and visually impaired kids.
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|Updated December 11, 2009|