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In early February I went to the “Padre Gemelli” primary school in Turin, Italy, where one of the local teachers, Franca Maria Gullace, had invited me to present #DrawDisability. After delivering the presentation, many teachers asked me questions and expressed their interest in participating with their students in the campaign. Franca Maria also asked me to conduct a #DrawDisability workshop in her classroom, and I accepted with pleasure.
A few weeks later I went back to the school with my partner Yendry, and we were welcomed by Franca Maria, her colleague Carmen Sanfilippo and their 22 students. In order to stimulate pupils’ curiosity we decided to tell them a short story. Yendry and I wore homemade tinfoil antennas and told the students that we were aliens visiting from another planet. The students explained to us that the inhabitants of planet Earth are called Earthlings, and that some of them are called human beings. We asked three of them to volunteer and to stand by the blackboard: being aliens we could not spot many differences among them, and we asked support from their classmates. The pupils started to point out all the differences they could notice – gender, height, colour of skin, hair and eyes, clothes – and we wrote each element on the blackboard. Summarising all these inputs, our new Earthling friends explained to us that human beings are all different. One of the students told us to have a twin brother, but we soon agreed that even they are very different. We concluded this first part of the workshop with a joint understanding that every single human being is unique.
At this point, Yendry and I showed some pictures to the children, asking them to describe what they saw. These pictures included two blind girls walking with canes, a boy with autism sitting alone playing with construction cubes, two children communicatin in sign language, a boy on a wheelchair playing tennis, a girl without arms and with prosthetic legs playing soccer, and a boy with Down syndrome holding two medals. The students (who had already taken part in some activities involving persons with disabilities) easily associated some pictures to the theme of disability, while other images presented more challenges. Several children explained why the girls where using the canes, while some were surprised that a boy on a wheelchair could play tennis. Most children did not identify deafness, and stated that those two children were playing with their hands. Similarly, students did not know the meaning of words such as “autism” and “Down syndrome”, and simply saw in those pictures two boys. All of them, however, reacted with astonishment at the sight of the girl with prosthetic legs.
This session prompted an interesting conversation on the meaning of disability. Yendry and I explained to the pupils that disability is part of our lives: some people are born with it, some others develop it a later stage. To remark the idea that disability is part of our nature, we added it to our list on the blackboard, and we summarised once again: “Some people are tall, some are blonde, some have green eyes, some have a disability: we are all different. And for this very reason, we are all equal.” We feared that the concept of being different and equal at the same time would be too complicated for the pupils, but after a brief discussion they proved us wrong. We compiled a list of different disabilities, pointing out that not all of them are immediately visible from the outside. Additionally, we explained that unfortunately many persons with disabilities are discriminated in society, and we underlined the the role of the environment and the responsibility of each one of us to be inclusive.
Some people are tall, some are blonde, some have green eyes, some have a disability: we are all different. And for this very reason, we are all equal.
One of our goals was to portray disability from a positive point of view, showing what persons with disabilities can do, rather than what they cannot do. We asked how many children could play the piano, and we later showed a video of Liu Wei, a Chinese artist without arms who plays the piano with his feet. Children were amazed, and we all agreed that persons with disabilities can be extremely talented. In order to challenge the students, we invited some of them to volunteer for a simulation activity: we placed some markers and sheets of paper on the desk, and we asked them to write their names without using their hands. The volunteers had to find creative ways to accomplish the task: some held the marker in their mouth, some others held it between the neck and the shoulder. Through the video and these activities they all realised that while it is true that disability may present some obstacles, it is also true that obstacles are made to be overcome.
While it is true that disability may present some obstacles, it is also true that obstacles are made to be overcome.
This reflection marked the end of our first workshop, and Yendry and I jumped back on our alien spaceship. The following week we went back to the same classroom for our second workshop. The children welcomed us with a wonderful choreography and a song written by teacher Franca Maria, based on the ideas emerged during our first workshop.
After a brief summary of the main concepts discussed the previous week, Yendry and I underlined the importance of our next activity. We explained that other children around the world were participating in the same project in that exact moment, and that their drawings could really contribute to the inclusion of persons with disabilities. We asked the students to think about creative ideas and to share them with us before starting their drawings. Most students expressed their intention to draw children with a specific type of disability, and we helped them to add creative elements to their artworks asking questions such as “Where is s/he?, What is s/he doing?, Is s/he happy or sad?”.
One of the challenges of the #DrawDisability campaign is to portray invisible disabilities. Drawing deafness or autism, for instance, may pose some serious technical difficulties. Working with very young children (6-7 years old), we did not specifically ask them to focus on invisible disabilities; nonetheless, several students decided to portray deaf children engaged in conversations using sign language. Other drawings included children without limbs, on a wheelchair or blind, doing sports, walking, singing and swimming. All the drawings are visible in the #DrawDisability Gallery (6-11 years old).
Conducting these #DrawDisability workshops was a truly enriching experience. Children have a unique perspective on the world surrounding them, and they are ready to challenge their stereotypes with great ease. #DrawDisability empowers them to express their own ideas and to act as young responsible global citizens, strengthening the advocacy for persons with disabilities. During the next few months, their drawings will be showcased at very important international events: the World Education Forum in May 2015 in Incheon, Republic of Korea, and the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (COSP-CRPD) in June 2015 in New York, USA. We hope that the voices of these young global citizens will reach the round tables of world leaders. And we hope that world leaders will be ready to accept the challenge, and listen to what children have to say.
We hope that the voices of these young global citizens will reach the round tables of world leaders. And we hope that world leaders will be ready to accept the challenge, and listen to what children have to say.
Andrea Pregel is an inclusion professional with experience in disability, development, education, gender and health across Europe and Asia. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Social Research from the University of Turin (Italy), and an Erasmus Mundus MA/Mgr in Special and Inclusive Education from the University of Roehampton in London (UK), the University of Oslo (Norway) and Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic). He is Co-founder and President of the Global Observatory for Inclusion (GLOBI), and works as Programme Advisor for Social Inclusion and Disability at Sightsavers International.