Integrating Art & Disability for the K-12 Curriculum

If you can’t access the video here you can view it on Diversified ART’s utube channel. Video: “Art & Disability” published by Diversified ART™ with special thanks to artists: Amy Charmatz, David Kontra, David Feingold, Linda Litteral.

Integrating Art & Disability for the K-12 Curriculum

This is an outline to be refined and adjusted to grade level, time frame, and student population.

Grade Level: Middle – High School (adjust content and difficulty according to grade level) This guide can be used for K-5 students but the conceptual complexity along with the language expectations will have to be reduced. At the K-5 level it can be used as an exposure experience rather than critical analysis.

Background and Definition:

“Disability Art” refers to the creative work by people with disabilities that reflects a disability experience, either in content or form (Sandahl 2009).

“Disability Art” offers art educators opportunities to critically engage students in the process of reflecting upon their own and others’ preexisting understandings of disability (Eisenhauer 2007).


  • Define Disability Art
  • Sensitivity training and inclusion awareness
  • Expose students to creative works by contemporary artists with disabilities
  • Students critically analyze creative works by artists with disabilities
  • Students gain an understanding of how disability can effect art and the impact disability art can have on society
  • Students explore their own and others’ understandings of disability

Materials, Supplies:

  • Slides of creative works by artists with disabilities – if possible use visual, performing, and literary works.
  • List of resources for Disability Arts Organizations owned and operated by people with disabilities
  • Names of organizations providing services to artists with disabilities
  • Handout – How to Critique Art
  • Guided interview questions for panel speakers
  • Panel speakers for Q&A – artists with disabilities invited into classroom to answer a guided set of interview questions from teacher and then opened up for Q&A between students and speakers.
  • Computer lab for research


Day/Week 1-2 – Introduction

  • Show slides of creative works by artists with disabilities that include visual, performing, and literary artists.
  • Lecture/ directed open discussion. Teacher asks students to discuss and critically analyze these works using the 4 elements of artistic criticism.
  • Lecture/Discuss define Disability Art.
  • Guided questions: Do you think the artists experience of disability has effected their creative work? Do you think the artists work has an impact on how people perceive disability? This prepares students for the critical analysis they will have to write later in the unit.

Day/Week 2-3 Panel Speakers/Interview and Q&A

  • Use the resources below and/or other Disability Arts Organizations to find and gather panel speakers for Q&A.
  • Utilize a slideshow or video of panel speakers creative work exposing students to their creative work.
  • Another possibility is having the artists themselves bring an example of their work with them (if possible).
  • Use guided questions (below) then open it up for Q&A between students and speakers.

Day/Week 3-4 Individual or Cooperative Group Critical Analysis/Assessment (older grades)

  • Students research an artist with a disability using the Disability Arts organizations listed below and/or other resources representing artists with disabilities.
  • Students write a critical analysis of a creative work by an artist with a disability answering at least two of the questions from each of the four categories of artistic criticism – adjust difficulty and length of this according to grade level.
  • Critical analysis should also include and answer the following questions…
  • “Do you think this artists experience of disability has effected their creative work? How or how not?”
  • “Do you think this artists creative work has an effect on peoples perception of disability” Why or why not?
  • Students include examples of each artists work.
  • Students present their individual or group project to the class, teaching other students about the artist they researched.
  • The presentation can be a slideshow, video, or lecture.

Day/Week 3-4 Individual, Cooperative Group, or Class Art Project (younger grades)

  • Draw, paint, or collage an inclusive/integrated environment, i.e. an environment that includes people of all abilities, backgrounds, genders, races, etc.
  • This can be an individual art project, cooperative group, or class mural project.

Handouts & Resources:

A Few Disability Arts Organizations

Possible Guided Questions for Panel Speakers
These questions should be given to the panel speakers before the interview so they can prepare.

  • Are you a visual, performing, or literary artist?
  • What is your inspiration?
  • How did you become involved in the arts?
  • Was art education available to you as a child, as an adult?
  • Do you feel disability has an effect on your creative work? If so in what ways?
  • Do you feel the arts are accessible to people with disabilities?
  • What barriers have you found in the arts for people with disabilities?
  • How do you feel the arts can be made more accessible for people with disabilities?
  • Is there anything you would like to add?
  • What suggestions do you have for young people with disabilities interested in a career in the arts?

Artistic Criticism – How to Critique Art
Describe, Analyze, Interpretation, Judgement

A quick reference to help understand, appreciate and analyze art. How to look at and critique art using the four components of artistic criticism.

Describe: Tell what you see (the visual facts).

  • What is the name of the artist who created the artwork?
  • What kind of artwork is it, what medium is it?
  • What is the name of the artwork?
  • When was the artwork created?
  • Name some other major events in history that occurred at the same time this artwork was created.
  • List the literal objects in the painting (trees, people, animals, mountains, rivers, etc.).
  • What do you notice first when you look at the work(s)? Why?
  • What kinds of colors do you see? How would you describe them?
  • What shapes can we see? What kind of edges do the shapes have?
  • Are there lines in the work(s)? If so, what kinds of lines are they?
  • What sort of textures do you see? How would you describe them?
  • What time of day/night is it? How can we tell?
  • What is the overall visual effect or mood of the work(s)?

Analyze: Mentally separate the parts or elements, thinking in terms of textures, shapes/forms, light/dark or bright/dull colors, types of lines, and sensory qualities. In this step consider the most significant art principles that were used in the artwork. Describe how the artist used them to organize the elements.
Suggested questions to help with analysis:

  • How has the artist used colors in the work(s)?
  • What sort of effect do the colors have on the artwork?
  • How has the artist used shapes within the work of art?
  • How have lines been used in the work(s)? Has the artist used them as an important or dominant part of the work, or do they play a different roll?
  • What role does texture play in the work(s)? Has the artist used the illusion of texture or has the artist used actual texture? How has texture been used within the work(s).
  • How has the artist used light in the work(s)? Is there the illusion of a scene with lights and shadows, or does the artist use light and dark values in a more abstracted way?
  • How has the overall visual effect or mood of the work(s)? been achieved by the use of elements of art and principles of design.
  • How were the artists design tools used to achieve a particular look or focus?

Interpretation: An interpretation seeks to explain the meaning of the work based on what you have learned so far about the artwork.

  • What do you think the artist was trying to say?
  • What was the artists statement in this work?
  • What do you think it means?
  • What does it mean to you?
  • How does this relate to you and your life?
  • What feelings do you have when looking at this artwork?
  • Do you think there are things in the artwork that represent other things/symbols?
  • Why do you think that the artist chose to work in this manner and made these kinds of artistic decisions?
  • Why did the artist create this artwork?

Judgment: After careful observation, analysis, and interpretation of an artwork, you are ready to make your own judgment. This is your personal evaluation based on the understandings of the work(s). Here are questions you might consider:

  • Why do you think this work has intrinsic value or worth?
  • What is the value you find in the work(s)? (For example, is it a beautiful work of art, does it convey an important social message, affects the way that I see the world, makes insightful connections, reaffirms a religious belief, etc.)
  • Do you think that the work(s) has a benefit for others?
  • Do you find that the work communicates an idea, feeling or principle that would have value for others?
  • What kind of an effect do you think the work could have for others?
  • Does the work lack value or worth? Why do you think this is so?
  • Could the reason you find the work lacking come from a poor use of the elements of art?
  • Could the subject matter be unappealing, unimaginative, or repulsive?
  • Rather than seeing the work as being very effective or without total value, does the work fall somewhere in-between?
  • Do you think that the work is just o.k.?
  • What do you base this opinion on? The use of elements of art? Lack of personal expression? The work lacks a major focus?
  • Explore your criticism of the work (s) as much as you would any positive perceptions.
  • Realize that your own tastes and prejudices may enter into your criticism. Give your positive and negative perceptions.
Eisenhauer, J. (2007) Just Looking and Staring Back: Challenging Ableism Through Disability Performance Art. Ohio State University. National Art Education Association. 49(1), 7-22
Sandahl, C. (2009) Program on Disability Art, Culture, and Humanities. University of Illinois, Chicago. Dept. of Disability
Janice Mason Art Museum Four Steps to Artistic Criticism. Kentucky (How to Critique Art is reformatted from “Four Steps to Artistic Criticism” by permission from the Janice Mason Art Museum)


Integrating Art & Disability for the K-12 Curriculum Vol. 2, no. 5, ©October 2011 Published by Diversified ART™  ISSN 2166-3661

About Diversified ART

Community-based artists guild, international artist registry, and digital gallery with classes, activities, and programs in the visual arts. Our organization focuses on the visual arts and social and environmental consciousness.
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3 Responses to Integrating Art & Disability for the K-12 Curriculum

  1. Anonymous says:

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  3. Grayson Gill says:

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