How Art Can Be Activism

Learning about local activism empowers students by helping them understand the wide variety of possibilities for affecting change, beginning in their own communities. This lesson introduces students to a movement for disability rights that integrated visual arts and community activism.
Grade Level


Students will:

  • critique stereotypes perpetuated by icons and images;
  • examine the power of art in social activism; and
  • use oral and written language to respond to a local activist movement.
Essential Questions
  • What is activism?
  • How can the visual arts help in fighting for social justice?
  • Why is it important to fight stereotypes? 

This lesson is part of the series, Picturing Accessibility: Art, Activism and Physical Disabilities.


icon [ AHY kon ] (noun) a picture or image that represents something 

accessibility [ ek sess uh BIL uh tee ] (noun) the quality of being possible to get into, use, make use

stereotype [ ster-ee-oh-tahyp ]
 (noun) an overly simple picture or opinion of a person, group or thing

agency [ AY-dzehn-see ] (noun ) the power and privilege to do something for yourself



  1. Introduce students to the idea that art can be activism: They can use visual artwork as a way of fighting for what they believe in. Explain that they will be learning about one activist who used her strengths as an artist to fight against stereotypes about people with physical disabilities, and to fight for greater accessibility. Ask students to share any examples they already know of artists that fight for social justice, or of local activism of any sort. Chart student responses.
  2. Have students independently read the article about Sara Hendren and her activism. (Note: For preliterate students, or classes where this reading might be a challenge, the article can also be read aloud or used as a shared reading. You can also adapt the vocabulary and syntax of the article to meet your students’ reading levels.) Ask students to talk with partners to summarize what they learned from the article and discuss their opinions about the questions at the article’s end.
  3. Individually or with partners, have students design their own sketches that show people with disabilities having agency. In their drawings, ask students to keep in mind the concept of universal design; in other words, have them think about how the world around them could be designed so that as many people as possible can access it. Their drawings might depict people in wheelchairs, or they might depict people with other physical disabilities. Encourage kids to think about places in their own school that are or are not accessible. If there are lunch lines or a cafeteria, how might someone with a physical disability navigate them, for example? What about the bathrooms at their school? How might crowded hallways become more accessible when kids move to different classes?
  4. Give the students time to talk to one another about their ideas as they work. When they have completed sketches, have them do final drafts and share their work with classmates. You might display student work on bulletin boards in your classroom or school.
  5. Have students go around the circle and share one thing about the sticker project that really stood out to them, either as admirable, exciting, inspiring or confusing.

Activities address the following standards using the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts: CCSS: L.3.4, L.3.6, RL.3.1, RL.3.7.

Extension Activity

Students can read more about the sticker project on Sara Hendren’s website. At home or school, encourage students to look at some more of the images and read commentary on the sticker project. Encourage them, with parental permission, to comment with their own thoughts or questions about the project. Allow time for them to share what they were thinking about and what they learned from further reading about this movement.