There has been little formal study of the barriers confronting young people with disabilities who dream about careers in the arts. In fact, there is very little known about these individuals at all. Until recently, investigators rarely asked persons with disabilities, particularly students, to offer their perspectives on their own experience (Davis, 1989). This paper diverges from that tradition. In attempting to list, describe, and analyze the major obstacles to arts careers for young persons with disabilities, the present author has relied heavily on data from interviews and correspondence with artists and aspiring artists with disabilities. Also included are responses from family members, teachers and other allies committed to those artists and their dreams. The author is grateful to all the key informants who made this work possible and whose generosity illuminated a particularly overlooked struggle within the disability community.
II. EARLY DEVELOPMENTAL BARRIERS
Even the most innately gifted artists must develop their creative potential by interacting with the world around them. However, young persons with disabilities commonly encounter barriers to their artistic aspirations at the very earliest stages of development. According to performance poet Cheryl Marie Wade:
Art... isn't all just some cerebral activity, it's an intense relationship to the world. Skills for language, for acting, for dance, for painting don't happen by being isolated and distant. We learn to be artists first by rubbing up against the world through all our senses, through our physical movement into and out of this and that. How many children who have physical limitations of movement or of their senses are put in environments which assist them in exploring fully, using what they have? We institutionally deprive disabled kids from discovering the delights of their humanness, thus depriving them of the foundation of sensual openness that is the fertile ground, so to speak, for creativity.Whether a developing child's creative interaction with the world is supported or thwarted depends on both the response of others and the qualities of the environment.
Response of Others
A major cluster of barriers to early artistic development involves discouragement from family and professionals, including:
Qualities of the Environment
- Generally low expectations - People with disabilities often grow up surrounded by both subtle and explicit messages that they are not expected to achieve highly in any aspect of life. For example, research consistently indicates that health professionals generally underestimate the future capabilities and quality-of-life of persons with disabilities (Gething, 1992; Bach & Barnett, 1994). Because parents rely on physicians and other professionals to help them make sense of their children's disabilities, these dim assessments can limit the way parents perceive their children's future and current accomplishments. As an accomplished artisan with cerebral palsy remembers, "I was told my dreams were unrealistic. The expectations to excel at anything were not high for me."
- Discouragement from significant adults regarding art - Many artists who grew up with disabilities vividly recall adults discouraging their childhood aspirations toward art careers. The reasons include the following:
- Students, regardless of disability, often receive little encouragement to pursue the arts as a primary endeavor because it is perceived as impractical for employment. Students with disabilities, moreover, are often coached toward pragmatism at an early age because parents worry about how they will survive when the parents are too old to care for them. Such parents may view arts careers as particularly imprudent for their children in view of the low probability of gainful employment, added to disability limitations and discriminatory social attitudes that already impede the path to work.
- Parents and teachers may not be aware of alternatives, including assistive technology and computer software, that can facilitate the child's creative expression. Therefore, they may not perceive how the child can "do art" with a functional limitation.
- Adults may be used to thinking of the child with a disability as a passive observer rather than an active participant in creative activities. They may fear that the child will feel or be inferior to "normal" children if she/he tries to participate and does not perform as well as nondisabled peers. For example, a teacher overheard a parent say that having her daughter take dance would be too depressing for her and unfair to the daughter since she would never become a ballerina.
- Lack of support from vocational counselors - School and vocational counselors often express narrow views of suitable career goals for students with disabilities. In contrast to careers deemed "safe," such as desk jobs, arts careers may be dismissed early in the counseling process as insufficiently marketable to merit vocational rehabilitation support. This dismissal can divert a budding artist from pursuing an art form after high school and beyond, as described by one informant who recalled: "I was discouraged from pursuing creative writing by DR [the Department of Rehabilitation] when I was 16. At 32, I began taking it seriously again." Another student who persisted in studying art was required to minor in computer science in college in order to receive support from vocational rehabilitation services.
The second major impediment to early artistic development in children with disabilities is the lack of a stimulating environment that invites exploration and creative expression. Contributing factors include (Also see "Access and Accommodation" section):
- Lack of arts programs that accommodate students with disabilities - In view of the pervasive lack of awareness of ways to make arts programming inclusive of students with disabilities as well as the fiscal constraints that have triggered cutbacks in traditional arts education, children with disabilities are often excluded from formal opportunities that stimulate and nurture creative development. Barriers to arts programs are particularly devastating to children with disabilities because they have fewer accessible alternatives in the schools and community than do children without disabilities.
- Access barriers to art in the community - Museums, theaters, galleries, concert venues, and cultural centers may be physically inaccessible or lack alternative forms of communication for children who have hearing, vision, or learning limitations.
- Few efforts to enrich the environment of children with disabilities - As they struggle to meet the basic medical, custodial, and educational needs of their children with disabilities, parents may overlook the importance of providing opportunities that challenge and encourage creative exploration. When nondisabled brothers and sisters are dropped off for dance and music lessons or given parental permission to attend class field trips to art museums and plays, the disabled child's need for similar experiences may remain unrecognized. Parents who cannot afford personal assistance services may be too exhausted after helping their child with basic activities of daily living to assist with art or craft projects that promote self-expression and mastery over materials. They may assume particular art forms are beyond the capacities of their child with sensory disabilities rather than experiment with alternative modalities, such as tactile exploration of sculpture, audio description of plays, or sign language interpretation of songs. They may not have time to permit their child the freedom of time and space and movement he/she needs to map out her/his creative potential.
III. SCHOOL FACTORSAlthough for many children, school provides outlets and supports for creative expression, children with disabilities may find school to be another environment that stifles rather than encourages interest in the arts. Some school barriers to careers in the arts are: conflicting activities during the school day; inability to engage in after-school activities; goal-setting issues; and framing the arts as therapy.
Conflicting activities during the school day
Many children with disabilities spend considerable time in therapies and skills-training--time that nondisabled children spend in "elective" classes, such as art, music, dance, video-making, and creative writing. Parents often view art opportunities as less important than clinical remediation or may feel the child has ample time to pursue the arts as an adult. Disability-related activities that compete with arts electives include:
Inability to engage in after-school activities
- Physical therapy
- Braille class
- American Sign Language lessons
- Occupational therapy
- Speech therapy
Students with disabilities often have fewer opportunities than nondisabled students to participate in arts activities after school, such as dance rehearsals, band practice, drama try-outs, working on school publications, etc. The barriers may involve:
- Transportation - Using public transportation may be complicated for students with sensory, cognitive, and mobility disabilities. Similarly, informal carpooling is difficult for students who use adaptive equipment such as motorized wheelchairs, walkers, and ventilators. Such students may need to rely on schoolbuses or rides from parents to get home each day, leaving little flexibility for extracurricular activities.
- Disability-related routines and appointments - The therapies and skills training referred to above may extend into after-school hours. In addition, time-consuming disability-related regimens, such as skin and bowel care, hydrotherapy, exercise, and perceptual-motor training may need to begin as soon as the academic day ends, eliminating options for after-school art activities.
- Lack of assistance/supervision - Schools may not provide adequate personal assistants, aides, or supervising adults to enable some students with extensive disabilities to engage fully or safely in after-school arts activities.
When schools implement federal requirements for educational planning and goal-setting for students with disabilities--i.e., the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP)--a student's interest in the arts may be neglected or undermined in several ways:
Framing the arts as therapy
- "Visions" are judged for realism - When a nondisabled student expresses over-ambitious or even fanciful career aspirations, adults are likely to respond with a good-natured shrug. However, when a student with a disability daydreams about career possibilities, his/her choices are likely to elicit careful adult scrutiny for their realism. By age 14, the disabled student's vision of the future, including career interests, can be documented as a basis for selecting curricular and extra-curricular activities and planning transition services. If the student expresses a career interest that teachers and parents perceive as impossible to attain or unlikely to be successful, the adults may direct the student to a goal deemed more pragmatic. Arts careers are generally not ranked among the most likely to lead to self-support after school ends. Consequently, students with disabilities may not even have an opportunity to dream about becoming an artist as they navigate their high school courses.
- Lack of knowledge about "realistic" arts careers - Resources used in transition planning are typically deficient in information about the variety of careers in the arts that are productive and possible for people with disabilities. For example, a paraplegic student who expresses an interest in dance may be discouraged by school personnel who have no knowledge of the national emergence of wheelchair dance as an art form. A student with limitations in motor control may be viewed as unrealistic for pursuing an interest in graphic design if computer drawing options are unknown.
- Absence of technology advocates - Due to inadequate state funding and lack of awareness of their availability, experts in disability technology are underutilized as consultants in the IEP process. Better use of technology options could help the student explore more fully and realistically a wider range of career interests while in school, including arts activities.
When arts activities are available to students with disabilities, too often their primary value is measured in terms of their capacity to improve the student's physical, sensory, psychological, or social functioning, rather than simply "art for art's sake." This goal-oriented, therapeutic approach to the arts and disability trivializes the intrinsic value of the arts while it discounts the creative potential of students with disabilities. It can lead to several negative outcomes:
- Restricted options - Rather than exposing children with disabilities to a full array of arts experiences, activities are often selected for their therapeutic value. A child with autism, for instance, is urged to participate in group arts projects to improve socialization skills but never has an opportunity to explore painting, dance or singing on his own. A child with motor limitations is asked to practice a carefully prescribed sequence of movements to challenge her "weak" extremities, but is never encouraged to explore freely her preferred patterns of movement. Particularly in segregated special education settings, students may have little opportunity to sample the variety of arts-related classes and activities offered in "mainstream" high schools, e.g., choral groups, orchestra, drama class, creative writing, photography, ceramics, etc. Consequently, these students lag behind their nondisabled classmates in terms of creative and cultural experiences when they arrive at college.
- Avoiding art as therapy - Having learned to associate arts with therapy, students with disabilities may resist participating in arts activities which they perceive as "special," i.e., designed to address the limitations of other students with disabilities and not interesting or authentic. Their future appreciation of art may be marred by this inculcated aversion.
- Students' work is not taken seriously - Arts are among those classes commonly considered "safe" for integrating young persons with and without disabilities because some teachers feel it does not demand clearly delineated competencies and because it stimulates casual social exchange. Unfortunately, many students with disabilities are required to take arts classes as "mainstreamed" activities whether they are interested in it or not. Again, the therapeutic benefits take precedence over the individual student's interests. Furthermore, students with disabilities who suddenly appear in arts classes but are not included in other aspects of the educational program may be viewed as needy and less than capable by teachers and nondisabled classmates alike. Their creative work may not be taken seriously or critiqued in the same way as the work of a nondisabled student. Many students with disabilities are quick to spot the discrepancy. Some leave such experiences with a lasting aversion to arts classes, a lack of faith in their own creative abilities, and skepticism about others' appraisal of their work.
IV. PREJUDICESociety's fear and devaluation of disability and the stereotyped images of people with disabilities featured in popular media can be powerful barriers to the creative efforts of young persons with disabilities. In the frank words of an artist disabled since childhood, "We're told we're ugly and awkward and feeble and pathetic these are not exactly stepping stones into a spotlight center stage."
Public conceptions of art are inextricably interwoven with notions of physical beauty. Unfortunately, persons with disabilities who look or function differently from average receive a strong social message that they fail to meet the majority cultural standard for beauty. Parents, anticipating their disabled child's rejection by peers, may inadvertently contribute to the stigma by urging the child to function more "normally" or by attempting to hide disabled body parts. Classmates and even strangers encountered in public may make disparaging remarks about the child's appearance. The popular media equate beauty with physical perfection and broadcast generally negative images of people with disabilities. Consequently, children who have learned to be ashamed of their disabilities may avoid music, dance, drama, and other art forms that focus a spotlight on them. After years of hiding significant parts of themselves and submerging their identities and voices, it is difficult to switch gears and suddenly see themselves or express themselves as artists. In the extreme, young persons with disabilities may feel unentitled to participate in the arts. For example, one individual recently speculated that disabled people were not visible in the arts because their presence would "turn people off."
Artists with disabilities report many instances in which they or their projects were characterized by stereotypes rather than seriously assessed on their own merits. One recalls hearing academics stereotype arts students as "dyslexics--people who can't read but can draw." Others remember instructors who prejudged students with disabilities as lacking the necessary stamina for performing or who felt that an actor with a visible disability would distract the audience's attention from the stars of a play. Many have encountered similarly disparaging attitudes in the staff of art programs. Students with disabilities feel such staff lack disability knowledge and are visibly uncomfortable in the company of persons with disabilities. Furthermore, the students sense little motivation in arts staff to learn more about disability accomodations. Although hostile and demeaning attitudes are troublesome, students also resent being treated as "a pet" or special project by instructors rather than a "real artist." In a similar vein, one college student says publishers have expressed an interest in marketing her work for its human interest potential. She characterizes their angle as, "Look, crippled kid can write."
Rejection of disability content as too narrow
Publishers, gallery owners, casting directors, and other "gatekeepers" to the arts often reject work by young persons with disabilities because they believe it would not appeal to a wide audience. The problems include:
- Perceived lack of interest - Employers in the arts often believe disability is of little or no interest to the majority of arts patrons because they have no personal disability experience. One publisher recently told an aspiring young writer whose work contained references to her disability, "no one is interested in that, it won't sell." Other students report outright rejection of disability subject matter by nondisabled artists and panel judges, leading to discouragement and giving up. Furthermore, it is concluded that performers with visible disabilities, by their very presence, will introduce disability as an intrusive theme in any work. There are several troubling assumptions underlying these negative assessments:
- Assumption: The segment of the public that has experienced disability either personally or though a loved one is narrow. Fact: The segment is large and grows larger as the U.S. disability population exceeds 50 million.
- Assumption: The disability community represents an insignificant market for the arts. Fact: People with disabilities are increasingly coalescing into a constituency. Advertisers and politicians have been trying to capture the voting and buying power of people with disabilities and their family members. Promoters in the arts have not yet made the same efforts.
- Assumption: The disability experience has nothing relevant to convey to the nondisabled world. Fact: The perspectives gleaned from living with a disability and its social correlates can illuminate many contemporary issues and bring a fresh view to common human dilemmas.
- Assumption: Neither the audience nor the artist can move beyond the artist's disability in their approach to the work. Fact: Artists with disabilities have incorporated a broad range of styles and themes in their work; and when given the opportunity, audiences have responded positively to actors, musicians and other artists with disabilities, e.g., Lionel Barrymore, Itzhak Perlman.
- Disability is considered depressing - Works with explicit disability subject matter or work performed by artists with disabilities is often rejected as "too depressing" even when the tone is light or humorous. Again, employers in the arts sometimes find it difficult to believe that patrons can relate to the nuances of disability better than they, themselves, can. As a result, they may deflate the aspirations of young artists by requesting that they "tone down" disability content.
- "Disability" is not part of "diversity" - Disability has not been widely enough acknowledged as a legitimate social minority status. Consequently:
- Funders and directors of arts organizations who value and seek "diversity" fail to recognize disability cultural works or artists with disabilities in their affirmative efforts involving ethnic/racial minorities, the gay/lesbian community, and women.
- Disability cultural "versions" of particular art forms are viewed as inferior to or less legitimate than traditional forms, e.g., wheelchair ballet.
It has already been mentioned that due to generally low expectations for young people with disabilities, they are not encouraged to become artists or performers. A related problem is that once they begin to pursue the arts as a vocation, they are prejudged incapable of producing good work. As one performer with a disability reflected: " I think the biggest problem, which underlies all the rest, is that we have a deep, long held belief that disabled people are significantly less in every way to nondisabled people. That belief is institutionalized." The result of this "institutionalized" lack of faith in the talent of young people with disabilities is that they are subjected to lesser standards than are nondisabled students. This widespread practice fails students with disabilities in several ways:
- Substandard instruction - Young artists with disabilities frequently are not offered instruction that is as comprehensive and rigorous as that offered to nondisabled art students. When they are included in "mainstream" classes, instructors may excuse them from difficult exercises or assignments out of misplaced compassion. This results in the unnecessary handicap of inferior skills.
- Confusing feedback - When they are deemed permanently "incapable," many artists with disabilities receive charitable rather than honest appraisals of their work from instructors and judges. Sometimes their work is accepted for professional exhibit out of pity rather than merit. This leaves young artists without a clear standard for excellence and it reinforces the public's sense that the work of people with disabilities must be judged by a separate, lower standard.
- Sensitivity to criticism - After years of distorted or "therapeutic" feedback about their creative accomplishments, young artists with disabilities may be stunned by the more realistic evaluations they receive in college. Not having learned how to handle criticism of their work, they may give it undue weight or feel personally attacked. For example, recalling her early years as a young artist, one woman said, "One of my obstacles was being able to separate that criticism of my work wasn't criticism of me. I think as disabled women we have inferiority ingrained in us and it takes years to undo the damage." Some particularly sensitive young people may become demoralized by their first honest critiques and give up their dream of an arts career.
V. IDENTITY ISSUESTo sustain their dreams of careers in the arts despite all the barriers, young persons with disabilities must be able to envision their role in the arts world. In the process of constructing the identity of one who contributes to the arts, a young person with a disability must navigate two dilemmas: finding models and mentors, and determining how the disability experience fits into the creative work.
Models and mentors
In many cases, neither arts students with disabilities nor their educators know any successful artists or performers with disabilities to use as exemplars and sources of information. This problem is particularly keen in areas far from large cities with high levels of disability rights and disability culture activism, such as San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. In areas without a strong disability community presence, students with disabilities may never know that others with their disabilities have pursued the arts successfully. As one adult with a disability recalled of her teen years, "Well, I wanted to go into theatre, but never saw any role models so I didn't even try." A teacher observes, "Knowing others have done it is crucial to young adults who live in familial and school environments that have eroded their confidence in their visions." Connecting with other artists with disabilities can be profoundly affirming. One woman remembers, "My life and art expanded when I met other disabled women artists. It helped me get a reality check about being 'scorned by the mainstream' and how society treats us, instead of feeling my frustrations were about me personally." Another artist explains, "There is a common identity... It has been a huge learning experience for me to be involved with other disabled artists and I have gained something really valuable from them that I really missed out on when in [college] for example...It has been a useful, valuable experience, [and] taught me a lot."
Incorporating disability into the creative process
Disability is a complex matter, leaving many young people stumped about how their disability experience relates to their creative work. Some resolve the question by avoiding disability themes entirely in their work. Young persons with disabilities can be significantly affected when others devalue the legitimacy of disability subject matter. That message reinforces the disability stigma they have already shouldered throughout their development. An adult with a disability who has spoken to aspiring artists reports, "most disabled people I spoke to [felt] that they wanted 'to get away from their disabilities through the arts,' not to use it as a medium for exploring disability." Knowing the reality of disability devaluation, some students wonder if they should even identify themselves as disabled at all when applying to universities or arts training programs. Despite the stigma, many young persons with disabilities are open to incorporating disability in their work because it is a significant part of working with "what they know." Others feel drawn to focus deliberately on their experience of disabilty in order to examine its importance through the arts. These intentions evoke some challenging questions: Can I play a role written for a nondisabled actor? Do I perform it as though my disability doesn't exist and hope the audience will overlook it, or can I be this character and be a person with a disability, too? How do I explain disability to others? Do I explain my private disability experience, or the collective experience of the disability community? How do I explain how my disability relates to my writing, music, drawing? Am I an artist who happens to be disabled, or a Disabled artist? How do my marginalized statuses--artist, young student, person with a disability--converge or overlap?
VI. ACCESS AND ACCOMMODATIONAccess barriers present a variety of impediments to young persons with disabilities on their paths to arts careers. Moreover, accommodations can be difficult to obtain for a variety of reasons. The following list gives examples of some common access issues [related to access barriers and impediments to accommodation]:
Impediments to accommodation
- Physical access
- No ramps into buildings or up to stages
- Adaptations needed to handle brushes, drawing/painting equipment and materials, cameras, pottery-making equipment, sculpting tools, etc.
- Voice-operated computers needed for creative writing
- Lack of wheelchair-accessible easels, rehearsal spaces, darkrooms, studios
- Inaccessible field trips to museums, galleries, etc.
- Communication access
- Braille signage needed on containers and cabinets holding supplies, tools, and materials; tactile surface indicators on stages; alternative formats for texts, instructions, and notices of art events and opportunities; audio-description of films, plays
- No sign language interpretation; visual signals for stage direction; captioning on films, videos
- Programmatic access
- Extra rehearsal time and cueing needed for learning disabled students to learn lines, choreography, stage directions, etc.
- Personal assistance needed for assisting physically disabled individuals with fine arts projects, helping package art work to send to competitions, finding materials and reading instructions to blind individuals, facilitating tactile exploration of props and materials, etc.
- Unwillingness of instructors to allow learning disabled performers time to review assigned pieces before auditions
- Required minimal grade in academic courses before arts classes can be taken penalizes some students with learning difficulties
- Insurance liability used as justification to exclude participants with disabilities in community programs
- Transportation access - Lack of transportation for blind, low-vision, physically disabled, and cognitively disabled individuals to attend extra- curricular arts activities, community programs, auditions, private lessons, etc.
- Inclusion attitudes - For some young persons with disabilities, teachers are less willing to endorse inclusion in the arts during high school than elementary school, possibly because arts activities in the upper grades are viewed as more "serious" preparation for future work. One drama teacher, for example, insisted that a student with a learning disability master cold readings and would not permit her to read the material ahead of time because "that's how things are done" in the theater.
- Students made to feel responsible - Due to inadequate information about reasonable accommodations or due to negative experiences seeking accommodation, many aspiring artists with disabilities believe it is solely their responsibility to offset their differences. Many report experiencing exhaustion as they push themselves physically and mentally to master activities or keep up with classmates without assistance or alterations in requirements. Some eliminate particular arts activities from consideration because they believe incorrectly that their limitations disqualify them.
- Invisible disabilities - The needs for accommodation of young artists with hidden disabilities are less well accepted and understood than the needs for persons with obvious disabilities. Requests for assistance or changes in class routine from students with invisible disabilities may be viewed as illegitimate demands and, therefore, unfairly denied or discouraged.
- Economic impediments - Since most artists view arts projects as severely underfunded, many expect that accommodation issues will remain a serious problem. According to one young performer, "...there's not a lot of money for the arts. That means rehearsal time is short. It means theatres and dance companies can't afford someone like me who needs so much time and attention. I do a lot of work on my own, but I need support. I am not cost-efficient in the art world." Historically, the disability community has been over-represented among the unemployed and impoverished. Unable to fund their own disability accommodations and unable to work without those accommodations, many young aspiring artists with disabilities feel trapped in a bind that can lead to the abandonment of career goals.
- Train arts educators to individualize instruction in response to the student's strengths. For example, a student with limitations in fine motor control found drawing and painting difficult but flourished when her instructor, a fiber artist, introduced her to weaving.
- Facilitate supportive connections between students and small working groups of artists (e.g., poetry groups, collagists) in the community that share the students' interests and skills. These links can provide mentoring and support and lead to networking possibilities, e.g., referring the student to an enlightened literary agent, informing the student about grant opportunities, helping the student market her/his work through the endorsement of established artists.
- An instructor might arrange for students to assist in developing a disability awareness presentation for arts organizations that frames disability as a facet of diversity, highlights of the work of accomplished artists with disabilities, and discusses access issues.
- Respect all students' interests in and capacities for participating in the arts, but recognize that art fulfills different functions for different individuals. For some students, the arts are therapeutic. For others, their art gives them a voice a vehicle for personal communication. There are some students, however, for whom the arts are a craft that can be developed into a career. Students in the latter category deserve acknowledgement of their aspirations, support, training, and genuine feedback based on standards equivalent to those for nondisabled students pursuing arts careers.
- Although young persons with disabilities pursuing arts careers deserve formal training and "real" standards, they also need instructors who are sufficiently flexible to explore alternative methods and nontraditional approaches to the arts. As one artist phrased it, artistic expression for people with disabilities often requires "throwing those very, very real and imagined demons of 'correctness' out the window." For example, a dance teacher should be open to wheelchair dance, a pottery instructor should be open to a student with upper extremity amputation using her feet instead of hands to shape the clay, etc.
- It is helpful for instructors to realize that creative development may take more time than average for some students with disabilities because they have been discouraged for so long from expressing themselves or viewing themselves as artists. In the words of one artist with a disability, "After having listened to others for so long, it takes awhile to uncover our own thoughts, feelings, and insights."
- Arts training goals should be specifically included in the IEP process for students interested in pursuing careers in the arts so that the students' participation in extra-curricular arts activities and needed accommodations can be supported.
- Schools, community arts programs, and arts funders should be better informed about access requirements mandated by laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as model programs that have achieved exemplary levels of inclusion and support for young persons with disabilities. Perhaps an agency-funded award can be developed for models of excellence.
- Videos and books featuring biographical information and examples of the work of accomplished artists with disabilities are needed to:
- foster pride and hope in aspiring artists with disabilities and provide ideas about proven career choices;
- convey to other students and teachers the value and legitimacy of disability art and culture;
- encourage community arts programs to include disability in their diversity efforts; and
- urge funders to include the disability community in setting funding priorities.
- More research is needed on the specific social, developmental, educational, cultural, economic, and policy barriers that impede students with various disabilities from achieving careers in the arts. When more detailed data is gathered, it can be used to recommend and design tests of the utility and effectiveness of improved practices.
- Develop a base of support for careers in the arts at centers for independent living and other advocacy groups. This can take the form of disability culture events, mentoring and peer counseling relationships between aspiring and established artists with disabilities, and advocacy efforts to make arts organizations more accessible and to urge vocational rehabilitation services to support clients committed to the arts as a career goal.
- Agencies that fund assistive technology projects and/or offer information on low- and high-tech adaptations, computer software, etc. should develop initiatives to assist with the inclusion of students with disabilities in school art curriculum. This information should be disseminated to students, families and teachers in such forms as an illustrated handbook, periodic newsletter, and Internet websites linked to other arts education and disability sites.
- Organize to include more artists with disabilities in teacher education and on policy-setting boards of disability funding agencies and arts councils. The goal would be to get arts representatives to view disability issues as important, and to get disability organizations to take career preparation in the arts more seriously.
- Scholarships should be dedicated to supporting advanced training in the arts for young persons with disabilities who have demonstrated potential for careers in the arts. A research and demonstration project grant could be offered to develop and study the effectiveness of an apprenticeship program that supports students with disabilities to work and study under professional artists. Needed accommodations, such as personal assistants, voice-operated word processing programs, adaptive equipment for drawing, etc., would be covered in the students' stipend. Young-Artists-in-Residence opportunities for promising students with disabilities could be similarly funded in cooperation with arts programs throughout the country.
VIII. CONCLUSIONThe typical circumstances in which young persons with disabilities grow up serve to suppress rather than encourage their participation in the arts. Aspirations of young artists with disabilities must survive myriad hazards: pervasive social messages of unworthiness, family concerns about the impracticality of the arts as a vocation, the lack of accessible arts programs in the schools and in the community, barriers to assistive technology and other accommodations, and estrangement from role models and mentors who can encourage, inspire, and inform. Yet the voices quoted throughout this paper testify that those aspirations survive after all. The fact that a strong cultural movement has emerged in the disability community despite these obstacles argues powerfully for the importance of the arts for all human beings. The establishment of disability anti-discrimination laws and the vitality of the disability rights movement have given many young persons with disabilities good reason to believe their obstacles can be overturned and their aspirations turned into achievements. The convening of this national forum on careers in the arts for people with disabilities is further reason for optimism.
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