Suggested topic seven: Creativity as empowerment

This enquiry explores how disabled people can be empowered to be independent and equal in society by looking differently at how society is organised. How can we use creativity to remove barriers for people?

Some background

Disabled people developed the Social Model of Disability because the traditional ‘medical model’ did not explain their personal experience of disability or help to develop more inclusive ways of living. The medical model looks at what is 'wrong' with the person and not what the person needs in the rest of their life. It creates low expectations of people with impairments and differences so that their schooling and employment opportunities are more limited and they are more likely to live in poverty.  It leads to people with impairments and differences losing independence, choice and control in their own lives.

What does the social model say?

‘Disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. The Social Model of Disability looks at ways of removing barriers which restrict life choices for people with impairments or differences. When barriers are removed, disabled people can be independent and equal in society, with choice and control over their own lives.’


Statistics for UK society show that while the standard of living has increased in the past 10 years, there is a bigger gap between those with resources and those without. (You can find more information by looking at the Family Resources Survey of the Office of National Statistics.) Some of those more likely to be disadvantaged are disabled people, older people and people with ill-health. There are many ways that we can  change our workplaces and schools, our public places, our media and culture so that nobody is prevented from realising their potential. These include very practical changes such as providing accessible transport or BSL interpreters but also more social changes, including better ways of listening to people and training them. A creative approach to overcoming barriers can be helpful. For example, see the creativity applied to design for assistive products for disabled people //

A scenario

You decide to work together to reorganise Art & Design in your school or group, so that some students with visual impairments in your group are better enabled to develop their art skills and knowledge. The majority of people who are registered blind have some vision, or at least can perceive light. Also, it may help to think about how art is not just about vision, but is also about touch, space, movement, sound and ideas. What are some ways that you could organise your art space, your equipment and the activities you do to enable full participation by the visually impaired students in your group and in doing so also improve art and design for all pupils?

Artist inspirations



Alison Lapper

Alison Lapper is a British artist who was born in 1965 without arms and with shortened legs, the result of a medical condition called phocomelia. The first 19 years of her life were spent in residential institutions for people with impairments and the story of those years and her subsequent success as an artist and public figure can be found in her autobiography, My Life in My Hands. She uses photography, digital imaging and painting, to make works that question our ideas about beauty and normality, often using herself as a subject. She was very interested in the classical statue, the Venus de Milo. The statue of the goddess was found with the arms broken off but despite that lack it became an icon of beauty. Similarly, her images show that images of disability can be beautiful. Since giving birth to her son Parys she has explored ideas about motherhood and disability. She was also the subject of a sculpture by another artist, Marc Quinn, which showed her nude and heavily pregnant. This was exhibited on the plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2005-2007. You might be inspired by her work to explore your own ideas about iconic beauty, normality and difference, or about the empowerment of creativity. Find out more on //

Illustrated with permission (select image to enlarge):

Alison Lapper, Pink Hands

Pink Hands, Alison Lapper.

Edwyn Collins

Collins is best known as a musician. He had a brain haemorrhage in 2005 that left him unable to walk, speak, read, write or play guitar. He was trained as a draughtsman and he returned to drawing after his stroke, every day drawing a bird. He is an advocate for people with strokes and for the power of drawing to help recovery.   See some of his drawings that were shown in an exhibition: //

His main website: //

Disabled artists

Look at this list of disabled visual artists on Disability Arts Online: //

For example look at the extraordinary digital art reflecting the experience of mental illness by David Feingold: //

Also, look at the work of Artshape in enhancing adults’ lives through access to arts activities://

Last Updated: 28 Apr 2014