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Art for the Differently-abled

Art for the Differently-Abled


I wasn’t looking for a new teaching position when I got the phone call last spring to “just let me show you our facility”. The call was from the director of the Stroke and Disability Learning Center at our local Community College, and I agreed to a tour. 

It wasn’t the beautiful new facility that hooked me, but the Stroke Center’s motto: “Love Spoken Here”, printed on the plaque by the door and throughout the building. Who wouldn’t want to work at a place with such a focus on loving others?

"Love Spoken Here"

Then I met the students, a mix of adult men and women with one thing in common…. they were all ‘differently-abled”. Some were victims of stroke, some suffered from Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease, some had a traumatic brain injury. Most were mobility-challenged and used a wheel chair or walker to get around. Many had use of only one hand, often their non-dominant one. Some could no longer communicate through speaking. 

But it didn’t take me long to realize that these people who some might describe as ‘dis-abled’ were really just ‘differently-abled’. I quickly fell in love with their resilience and their strength of character. There’s no doubt it takes effort beyond what I can imagine to get out the door in the morning and make their way to their classes, yet they do. They’re curious and excited about learning. And the support and encouragement they give each other is both heartwarming and inspiring.

So I found myself agreeing to teach ceramics and painting to this wonderful community of differently-abled students. This decision came with more than my usual amount of back-to-school jitters. Other than some volunteer work, I’ve had no official training with this demographic. And I can no longer rely on my favorite tried and true lessons and techniques. But what I can do is share my passion for art, ‘speak with love’ to these amazing students, and learn the adaptations we need as I go along.

Now that I’m a month into my new teaching position, I’m pretty sure I’m learning as much or more than my students. Isn’t that usually the way it goes with teaching??!

Curious about the beautiful clay rose at the top of this post? This was made by one of my differently-abled students on our first day of class. Wouldn’t this make a lovely gift for a parent’s birthday or Mother’s Day? I’ll be posting this lesson on making Capodimonte Roses in my TPT store soon!

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