Maria is our newest student at The Cultural Education Center for the Arts (CECA). She began sharing her light with us a few months ago and we are continually captivated by it’s brilliance.
On her first day, we marveled as she arrived magically steering her motorized wheelchair with her hands in the air. Her bus driver joked, “It reads her mind!” and Maria shrieked with delight at his sarcasm. In reality, her steering is controlled by her head rest pads. (She is a great driver, but has a tendency to speed..)
Maria has a disability which severely limits the control of her body movements, especially her hands. As a conceptual artist, dancer, and director this can be extremely frustrating, but Maria does not let her disability cloud her abilities. She communicates her ideas by answering yes and no questions sometimes with head nods, sometimes with a very subtle batting of her long lashes, and sometimes with exuberant vocalizations.
Observing Maria’s relentless determination daily inspired me to seek alternative methods of art making and communication for her. One day, after many students had gone home, I was talking to Maria about some successful artists with disabilities. We watched videos of a wheelchair ice dancer and a paralyzed woman who paints with her mouth. Maria beamed with delight and I asked her if she would like to try painting with this method sometime. She gave an exuberant shriek and I promised her we would try the next day. This was not the best method for Maria, so I did some more research and found a woman who paints with an adaptive device called a head mounted pointer. I made a makeshift pointer using a fedora hat, a brush, and lots of tape, then held up a clipboard with a picture of a woman wearing sunglasses. Maria began making marks on the paper with control she had never had before. She worked slowly and steadily until a shape began to emerge: Maria’s first complete form! Her smile became a laugh which became one of the most joyful sounds I have ever heard and I held back tears in the warmth of her glow.
Yesterday, she was able to sign her name for the first time. All this time she has known how to spell, but has been unable to transfer her knowledge through her hands. A whole new level of communication is possible now because of this discovery! Maria now recognizes the potential to express herself more completely without depending on others to ask the right questions.
I am a Music Instructor for CECA that dabbles in visual art and dance.
Pamela Gartner, Art & Music Instructor