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“Visual art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced”
It has always been an interesting point to note that visual arts, specifically drawings, indeed, promote inclusion through the artists’ authentic experiences. And the #DrawDisability campaign is a concrete proof of this idea. Think about this: children and young people with and without disabilities around the world were encouraged to express how they feel and think about disability and inclusive education through drawings. Their parents and teachers worked closely with them which allowed meaningful dialogues and learning on issues revolving disability.
This process of promoting inclusion was made bigger when the drawings of children and young people were featured in three of the biggest education events in the world. The first two, in May and June, were the World Education Forum in Incheon and the Conference of States Parties in New York. More recently, on December 3, 2015, the #DrawDisability campaign, through the strong support of the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) and its Youth Advocacy Group, had the colossal opportunity to feature two of its major events during the commemoration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities at the UN Headquarters in New York.
The campaign kicked off the commemoration through a five-day drawing exhibition which commenced on November 30, 2015. The event featured the finalists and the top 100 voted drawings of children and young people from 50 countries around the world. The drawings emphasized the diverse perspectives of children and young people about disability. Some drawings talked about how Persons with Disabilities can become active citizens in the society. Some exemplified concrete ways on how the people in the community can help empower those with disabilities. And some drawings presented the real struggles of Persons with Disabilities in the society – lack of education, discrimination, and humiliation.
The second activity, which was done on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, 2015, focused on how to create a space for people to discuss about inclusive education. This paved way to holding the round-table discussion titled ‘Leave No One Behind: Continuing Conversations on Inclusive Education’.
The discussion was opened by Min Jeong Kim, Head of the GEFI Secretariat, who emphasized how GEFI’s first priority on putting every child to school has led to the initiative’s strong support in operationalizing the #DrawDisability campaign.
Sumaya Saluja, co-chair of GEFI-YAG and moderator of the round-table discussion, then introduced the panelists and the importance of continuing conversations on inclusive education to keep the marginalization at the center of the international dialogue with particular attention to education for children with disabilities.
Andrea Pregel, President of the Global Observatory for Inclusion (GLOBI), critically discussed how the #DrawDisability campaign facilitated the voices and telling the stories from children and youth with and without disabilities.
I took part in the conversation as Fellow of the Jeanne Sauve Public Leadership Program and member of the GEFI-YAG, and I shared my grassroots experiences on the importance of advocating for inclusion and co-campaigning with allies on educational exclusion, ensuring youth initiatives are supported.
Dr. Christopher Lee, Department Head of Accessibility Solutions and Research Center at Georgia Institute of Technology, talked about the creation of accessible content and access to knowledge for learners with disabilities.
Dr. Danielle Peers, Banting Post-Doctoral Fellow with the Critical Disability Working Group of Concordia University, discussed disability as creativity, non-prescriptive learning, and the usefulness of artistic modalities in the modern inclusive classroom.
Lieve Sabbe, Programme Specialist (Children with Disabilities) of UNICEF, emphasized the importance of disability inclusive indicators being developed and the use of disaggregated data to establish an evidence base to inform programming and policy that is inclusive of children with disabilities.
The discussion was then opened for questions and comments from the more or less 80 event attendees. The questions revolved on how to promote inclusion outside the structured settings, how to provide support to teachers on the ground, and how to strike a balance between policy and practice in bringing inclusive education forward.
In order to strengthen the understanding on the discussion on #DrawDisability and its strong connection to inclusive education, the attendees were invited to join the #DrawDisability exhibition reception where they had the opportunity to view the drawings of children and young people. The reception was made more meaningful with the speech presentations of four participants of the #DrawDisbaility campaign, Nazir Saddat, Raveera Toqeer, Rachel Yao and Alisha Wagh. Two come from a school in New Jersey, one is from Massachusetts, while one flew all the way from Mumbai, India. One of them shared how her daily interaction with a peer with a disability in her school inspired her to participate in the #DrawDisability campaign. Her drawing exemplified how her peer with a disability has been given support in order for her to succeed in school. The reception was also graced by Marie Paule Roudil, Director of the Liaison Office to the United Nations in New York, who highlighted the role of visual arts in promoting both inclusion and peace especially in emergency contexts.
December 3, 2015 was, indeed, an important day for #DrawDisability primarily because it provided the campaign with the opportunity to expand its advocacy in educating the global community about disability and inclusive education. The feedback and sentiments shared by the attendees of the events clearly strengthened the campaign’s positive and meaningful impact.
Moving forward, the #DrawDisability campaign is set to continue in 2016. Specifically, the campaign will be brought to the country level to ensure that more people, especially those on the ground, are also given the opportunity to learn and reflect about disability and inclusive education through the drawings of children and young people with and without disabilities from around the world. After all, as Leo Tolstoy expressed, these drawings can be powerful and authentic as they are grounded on feelings and real-life experiences of children and young people that made them.
Watch the video of the round-table discussion, ‘Leave No One Behind: Continuing Conversations on Inclusive Education’:
See the pictures of the #DrawDisability event:
[All photos by Claudia Paul – © 2015 GEFI, GLOBI, YAG]