Making art accessible
I’ve always loved art, which is often a surprising fact for people to learn about me. Being visually impaired, a lot of people wonder how I manage to enjoy something that is such a visual form of expression. I decided to write a blog about how I use technology and my own methods to get the most out of art.
Art at School
My love of art started at school when I was very young. I was lucky in that I went to a very inclusive mainstream primary school where everybody learned together. In some art lessons, we’d draw or paint things related to what we were learning about and in some we could draw what we wanted. I remember a lesson where we painted flowers – and believe it or not, 18 or so years later my Mum has it framed on our wall!
The teachers at my primary school used to make art accessible by letting me look at objects close up (if we were painting or drawing flowers for example), and also letting me touch the objects so that I could get an idea of texture. In the lesson on flowers, they also encouraged us to smell them to try to get more realism in our pictures. They used to let me draw or paint with bright colours too – and sometimes with scented gel pens! – so that drawing and art became more about other senses as well as visuals. One final thing we used to use were a product called Wikki Stix. These are coloured pieces of wax-covered string that you can use to make pictures out of, making them tactile and very easy to see. I used to have great fun with them!
At secondary school, access got a bit harder because everyone in the class was expected to draw in the same way – and so they should be! But this did make accessing the lessons a bit trickier. ‘Still life’ lessons were my least favourite because there would be an object at the front of the room that everyone had to draw. The teachers would sometimes give me a different object so that I could look at it close up, but these lessons were still very tricky.
I loved a project we did on sculptures though, because I could actually feel something taking shape in my hands, so that was a lot of fun – and very accessible too! We also did projects on using colour – this was by far my favourite because I could be more abstract with my work and people understood it more – my still life drawing was never my finest!
When we drew portraits of ourselves, my teachers would encourage me to touch my face and hair to try to lean those textures and recreate them in a pencil drawing. I never did this in class (cringe!) but I did it at home, as this project was for homework anyway. It was great that the teachers encouraged me to access art in different ways – and this is what started my love for it.
Art at Youth Group
When I was younger, I used to go to a weekly youth group – I still go now in the summer! The group centred a lot around self identity and expression and a lot of that came from drawing or painting. I really enjoyed it because at youth group, unlike school, there was a lot more choice. So for example, for a piece of art work where we had to write different words describing who we were, I picked the most vibrant pink neon paper to draw on – not only so that I could see it but to express my personality as well! Through projects like this, the youth workers really encouraged me to see my visual impairment as a positive aspect of my personality – they made me realise that if I was’t visually impaired I might not be so drawn to vibrant, neon colours!
At my University, there is an Art society, but I was always nervous about joining it. I’m very aware that there are people who do Art as a subject and I was a bit worried about my capabilities. I never joined that group. Now I do my drawing by myself and sometimes show friends my work. There are different ways I’ve learned to access art by myself now.
I use drawing programmes on my iPad, as well as the Color ID App, to enable me to select colours to draw with and to draw pictures. The Disney Creativity Studio App is great because it teaches you how to draw the characters step by step – and I really enjoy it. There are some great art programmes for the iPad and for other tablets, so there’s a lot of different choices that are accessible to everyone which is great! I only wish that iPads had been a bit more widely available when I was at school. The other technology I use to draw is my Mac. I simply Google whatever it is I want to draw and follow step-by-step instructions online. With the Zoom features and VoiceOver, I nearly always manage it, or if not, I ask a friend.
I also use brightly coloured gel pens – still! – and felt tip pens which makes drawing a lot easier – as well as a lot more vibrant and fun! I have a specific book I use for drawing too – helps to keep all my work in one place so I don’t lose it! – and it’s great to be able to express myself. If I start to struggle at all, mostly a quick Google sorts me out, or I ask friends to help.
I really enjoy drawing and hope that with technology improving every day, it can be made even more accessible in the future. Happy drawing everyone!
Tags: Accessibility software
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