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LESSON

Art and Accessibility: Study of Design

In this lesson, children will consider what’s involved in creating spaces for people who are differently-abled and learn how art can be used to create a more open and accessible world.
Grade Level

Objectives

Students will be able to: 

  • think about what makes the design of different spaces accessible or not accessible. 
  • identify and analyze ways of designing spaces that accommodate or better accommodate people with disabilities.
Essential Questions
  • What are disability rights? 
  • What is the relationship between art and the disability rights movement?

Enduring Understandings:

  • The disability rights movement works to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as people without disabilities. 
  • Artists and designers are working to create buildings and public spaces that are accessible to people with disabilities.
  • The disability rights movement works to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as people without disabilities. 

  • Artists and designers are working to create buildings and public spaces that are accessible to people with disabilities.

Materials

One of the following books — or another that features a character in a wheelchair: 

  • Mama Zooms, by Jane Cowen-Fletcher 
  • Darlene, by Eloise Greenfield 
  • Don’t Call Me Special, by Pat Thomas 
  • Susan Laughs, by Jeanne Willis 
  • Featherless, by Juan Felipe Herrara 
  • Rolling Along: The Story of Taylor and His Wheelchair, by Jamee Heelan

Overview

Art and Activism is a series of 12 mini-lessons that capitalizes on children’s relationship with art. It lets children explore art as a natural way for them to express their ideas and feelings. They will look at, think about, and make art together. Being involved with art in this way helps children build community and also lets them see themselves as important parts of the world. It prompts them to examine how art relates to community, leadership, and activism. The mini-lessons can be used individually or as a full series. They are not dependent on sequence.The disability rights movement uses art in a very direct way: the design of a playground, bathroom or theater can determine who has access and who does not. Designers focused on disability rights also take care to make spaces visually appealing. In this lesson, children will consider what’s involved in creating spaces for disabled people and learn how art can be used to create a more open and accessible world.

Vocabulary

activism [ ak-ti-vi-zəm ] (noun) the policy or action of using active campaigning to bring about political or social change 

design [ di-zīn ] (verb) to plan and make decisions about something that is being built or created; (noun) the arrangement of details and elements of a work of art, building, public space, etc.

 

Procedure

1. Read aloud one of the following picture books: Mama Zooms by Jane Cowen-Fletcher; Darlene by Eloise Greenfield; Don’t Call Me Special by Pat Thomas; Susan Laughs, by Jeanne Willis; Featherless by Juan Felipe Herrara; Rolling Along: The Story of Taylor and His Wheelchair by Jamee Heelan or another book that shows a character in a wheelchair. Stop throughout the book to ask students to think about how the design of buildings and spaces in the world might limit or help people who have a harder time moving around. If you have time, walk around your school or school playground with your class and ask them what they think about the way these spaces are designed. How would the design impact someone in a wheelchair? Someone who had trouble lifting things up? Someone who couldn’t see, or hear?

2. Have students write independently in their journals about what it means to “design” something. (Note: Preliterate students may also do a sketch of something they think has been designed to demonstrate their understanding of the term.) After students have had a chance to express their thoughts, allow them to share their responses with a partner or in small groups. Then bring the class together to discuss the question: “In what way is design, such as the design of a space or an object, art?” You can prompt them with more specific ideas: “How is designing a building a type of art? What about designing a plate, fork and knife? What about designing a playground?”

3. Explain to students that advocates for disability rights often look at design as an important part of activism. Specifically, designing tools and spaces that can be used by people of a wide range of abilities—sometimes known as universal design—is an important part of advocating for the rights of people with disabilities. In this way, art (design) becomes a significant part of activism for disability rights movements. Do an image search for “accessible playgrounds” or “universally designed playgrounds.” Show students images of spaces designed with accessibility in mind, and explain that artists and designers have thought very carefully in these cases about how to use their creativity to advocate for equal access.  

4. After looking at images, have students discuss the following questions with a partner or in small groups:

  • What makes a playground more or less accessible to someone in a wheelchair? What about someone who has trouble using her hands carefully? Or someone with a visual impairment?
  • How can the creativity of an artist be especially helpful in designing an accessible playground?

Circulate to listen to students’ conversations, and make note of common threads.

Common Core State Standards: SL.1, SL.2, R.2, R.3, R. 6, R. 7

 

Extension Activity

As a class, brainstorm a list of your community’s playgrounds and public spaces. By a show of hands, select one of the spaces as “the most fun/best to visit.” Then ask: “Is the space accessible to people with disabilities? Why or why not? What would make the space be more accessible?” Make a list of students’ ideas and suggestions and share them at a community meeting or address them to the appropriate community official. Be sure to follow up and share the response with the class.