The student art presented here (including detailed verbal descriptions) grows out of a disability awareness poster contest held at Bronx Community College of the City University of New York in the spring semester of 2008. Including a reproduction of a poster by student Carmen Caraballo, this brief article provides a description of the project and discusses the ways in which it offered enrichment at many levels. Specifically, by involving students, faculty, and administration in its process, the contest successfully supported an expansive awareness mission in a community which does not outwardly embrace visible disability.
Julia Miele Rodas is an Assistant Professor of English at the City University of New York (CUNY). She teaches writing at CUNY's Bronx Community College and presents and writes frequently on the subject of disability. Her work has appeared in Victorian Literature & Culture, Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, Dickens Studies Annual, the Victorian Review, the Explicator, and other venues. Dr. Rodas also serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies and the Encyclopedia of American Disability History. She is currently working on a book about the Brontës and autism.
Carmen Caraballo is currently completing her Associates degree in Graphic Design at CUNY's Bronx Community College (BCC). She is a long-standing and outspoken advocate for accessibility and disability rights, especially for college students, and is lobbying to form a student club at BCC to address disability issues on campus.
(This flyer was distributed by campus-wide e-mail, was posted prominently in high-traffic areas of the campus, was presented to the faculty in meetings of the English Department and the Art & Music Department, and was distributed by the contest sponsor in her own classes and in those of one colleague teaching graphic design.)
The contest.Students at Bronx Community College are invited to submit posters or poster ideas that help to raise disability awareness. Entries should use the words "disability" and "diversity" in a way that illustrates a bond between these ideas. Collaborative efforts are welcome.
Entries should also:Celebrate disability as an identity and a culture. (For more information, see the next page.); Depict disability in a positive light; Promote inclusion; Advocate for accessibility.
MediumConventional posters/flat art: Entries may be printed digital art or traditional art (e.g., paper, paint, ink, collage). The entry may be of any dimensions as long as it can be effectively displayed or distributed without printing, reproduction, or manufacturing costs that exceed $100. Flat art entries should include a digital PDF file and an 8.5 X 11 printout. While flat art is acceptable, any feature that increases the accessibility of the poster — the inclusion of extra-visual components like sound or tactile elements — will be looked upon favorably by the judges.
Other media (including performance)The use of other media is welcome, especially if the proposed format will make the poster accessible to a greater variety of people. Students may wish to consider a "conceptual poster," using multimedia, street art, performance, fabric, or some other format to bring the awareness message to the widest possible audience. If the entry is a concept that can only be presented live, the competitor may use written narrative, mock-ups, prototypes, or story boards to present his or her idea to the judges, but the submission must be presented in a form that can be carried and judged without the presence of the student.
DEADLINEfor submissions is Monday, April 7 at 4pm. If the entry is ready before the deadline, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for delivery options. Entries delivered on the afternoon of the deadline may be brought to Colston 626. All entries must be clearly marked with the student's name(s) and contact information.
Judging.Entries will be judged based on two key factors: The impact the judges believe the poster will have for spreading awareness of disability as diversity; and the skill and quality reflected in the execution.
Prize(s).The judges expect to award two prizes of $50, but reserve the right to award up to four prizes of $25 or a single prize of $100 depending on the number and quality of the entries. Prizes will be announced no later than April 14.
(The following crash course in disability identity, politics, culture was included on the reverse side of the contest rules.)
Disability Culture & Disability Identity
When considering minority groups, mainstream culture often thinks in negative terms, stressing those aspects of difference that seem problematic or focusing on "issues" that need to be resolved. For this reason, public attention is often given to "problems" rather than positive contributions. Because each of us identifies in some way as a minority, we are all familiar with this experience, the feeling that an outsider doesn't "get" us, or the frustration of being thought of as "them" or "those people." The same is true for people with disabilities.
In fact, people with disabilities are a regular part of culture and history and make a tremendous contribution to our society. The American presidents John F. Kennedy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt had physical disabilities as did internationally renowned artists Henri Matisse and Frida Kahlo. The German composer Ludwig van Beethoven was deaf and Itzhak Perlman, a polio survivor, is widely recognized as the world's foremost contemporary violinist. The list of people with disabilities who are or have also been great artists, intellectuals, politicians, and humanitarians is enormous. These people are not identified by as being problematic or defective, but are justly celebrated for their contributions.
Increasingly, people with disabilities are recognizing that disability is an essential part of identity. While it may sometimes be inconvenient, a disability is not always a loss or a deficit, it can and should be valued as a part of our individuality, a feature that makes our perspective unique, a part of the individual experience we can share with others to help create a richer and more complex sense of what it means to be human.
With this idea, the use of disability in art, literature, and politics has flourished in recent years and in addition to individuals — like comedians Greg Walloch, Geri Jewell, and Josh Blue — many groups have come together to give more focused attention to the place of disability in culture and society. These include theater groups and dance companies, artists' collaboratives and programs of academic study, political think tanks and disability advocacy organizations. All agree that disability can offer a valuable perspective, one that stands to enrich the lives of everyone, including the nondisabled.
People with disabilities are the single largest minority group in the United States, making up an estimated 20% of the population. The size of this group may come as a surprise, in part because many disabilities are not visible and because most people with disabilities interact in the greater world without any evident accommodation or support.
A few websites for further research — there's a LOT more out there!
- Kevin Connolly, photographer — The Rolling Exhibition — http://www.therollingexhibition.com/
- Amputee dance competition, "Champutee" — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNn6qOrXkYM
- Regarding autism and Asperger syndrome — http://www.neurodiversity.com/main.html
- Josh Blue at Last Comic Standing! — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMSrpZi_6WM
- Peter Webb, Disabled Artists in History — http://www.outsiders.org.uk/emotions-in-focus/disabled-artists
- AXIS dance company — http://www.axisdance.org/
- Theater Breaking Through Barriers — http://www.tbtb.org/
- disTHIS! Disability film series — http://disthis.org/
- An introduction to Disability Studies — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disability_studies
For those considering the implementation of a similar contest or program, it may be worthwhile to consider some of the challenges we experienced as the contest progressed. One item of special concern was our failure to help students plan adequately for integrating and crediting their sources. In an effort to support the creative process in this introductory art course, students were offered great freedom and flexibility in their use of underlying images and graphics. While enabling students to generate ideas and compositions that helped to develop their growth as artists, this approach also meant that some submissions included components from undocumented source material. In the future, contest leaders will need to weigh more carefully the tension between freedom and openness in the classroom and protection of intellectual property.
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