Accessible Pedagogies and Arts-Based Evaluations

Anne McGuire, PhD Assistant Professor

Course: NEW 241: Introduction to Disability Studies
Class Size: 80 students
Duration of Class: Full-year
Class Style: Lecture

Anne McGuire is an Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream in the Equity Studies Program at the University of Toronto. Her teaching and research draw on interpretive perspectives in disability studies and cultural studies and focus on disability representations and questions of human vitality and precarity.

Arts-based evaluations, in Anne’s disability studies course, ask students to bring their understanding of course themes and theories together with practice by producing alternative, accessible representations of disability. Examples of past student assignments include pencil-drawing or painting, photograph or photographic series, pastiche, tapestry, spoken word, dance, poetry, audio or video recording, sculpture, short story, musical composition, performance art, as well as short essay format.

All art pieces are accompanied by an artist statement in which students explicitly connect their work to course texts, ideas, and themes. Students can also submit a traditional written assignment, if they prefer. The assignment strives toward being more accessible by addressing and welcoming diverse means for students – including disabled and mad students – to communicate their knowledge
and understanding of the course content.

Introduce the assignment early in the class to get students thinking.

Ground assignment in course themes and theories.

Keep assignment guidelines and objectives clear but be flexible and open to considering different approaches to the assignment.

Provide students with lots of examples of past student work and encourage them to explore theme-specific art in local galleries or other arts spaces.

Provide students with a series of carefully chosen guiding questions that can help students better critique their own creative work.

Find ways of celebrating the outcomes of the assignment. Allow students the opportunity to share their work, whether it be in the context of an in-class salon or program/departmental event.

Weight the assignment relatively low (15% or so) to encourage students to take risks.

Consider dedicating an entire tutorial or parts of a lecture to open discussion and explanation of the assignment.

Evaluation should focus on ensuring the student has demonstrated a clear understanding of the course theme, that they’ve answered or addressed the question(s) posed to them in the assignment description, and that they put effort into creating their project.

As a way to ‘create disability differently’, Grey (in the image below) made an accessible weighted blanket, that both reflected the richness of an intersectional queer-disability identity and that was made with low cost materials. Different parts of the blanket include different design textures and features to occupy and soothe anxious hands and bodies. In their written statement, Grey identified that the market cost of this kind of blanket is often prohibitive for many disabled people. The result is a stunning, rainbow coloured, hand crocheted blanket.