Art and Disability E-mail

Art Relief International's Art and Disability Program strives to reach out to people with physical and/or mental disabilities and to support them through the arts. Not only does art provide a great means of self-expression and creativity, it allows people to escape from the routine of their daily lives in hopes of coping with life's challenges. Many children with CP, as well as other physical disabilities, are often left to wander alone throughout the day with little-to-no social interaction.  ARI brings color and excitement into the lives of these children--giving them a creative arena without boundaries. In addition to the mental benefits, the physical benefits of art are undeniable. Through our work, we have seen an increase in strength, coordination, and concentration in most, if not all, of our students.

 

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In addition to using art as a means of therapy for people with disabilities, we use the arts as a tool to educate our local community about disabiling conditions. Art has proven to us to be a smart and inspirational medium in illustrating the miraculous stories of suffering, struggle and survival that mark our program participants.  ARI helps them to narrate their stories through their art, while advocating that people with disabilities are essentially more able than they are made out to be. 

 

Background

 

Neil Marcus, a writer and poet who lives with a neurological movement disorder called dystonia, once said: "Disability is not a brave struggle or 'courage in the face of adversity.' Disability is an art. It's an ingenious way to live."

 

It is believed that people with proven physical and mental impairments have made major contributions in the areas of arts and sciences since the ancient world; however, It was towards the end of the 20th century that people with disabilities began to successfully express themselves artistically and creatively, producing artwork in the areas of painting, sculpture, literature, poetry, theatre and dance.

 

People with physical or mental impairments were once praised and fancied in some societies for their natural abilities and insight into the arts, philosophy, and social sciences. They were thought to be ingenious because their difficult conditions forced them to explore other approaches to movement, expression, perception and social interaction. The term 'disability,' therefore, is inherently hard to define, considering an individual's inability to perform a certain function only heightens their ability to operate in a different way.

 

Problems of disability in developing countries is extremely overwhelming. As much as 80% of all disabled people in the world today are from isolated rural areas in developing countries like Thailand. It is a growing belief that a direct relationship exists between disability and poverty, where people with disabilities have been found to come from areas with little or no medical services and insufficient resources. One of the most common congenital disorders in childhood is cerebral palsy (CP), and this rate of recurrence only increases in populations in the developing world. Of the many types of CP, none of them have a known cure. Medical treatment is usually limited to the treatment and prevention of complications that could arise under the pressures of CP; however, most children with CP in the third or developing world don't actually receive the therapy they need in order to live a healthy life.

 

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In countries like Thailand, the disability problem is aggravated further by social taboos and an overall lack of knowledge about disabling conditions like cerebral palsy. Researchers have claimed that individuals only become disabled once society imposes restrictions on them on top of their impairments. This is done by way of unnecessarily isolating and excluding these individuals from full participation in society.

 

ARI's Art and Disability Program aims to combat this social issue the best way we know how--through art.