Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views, Issue no. 7 March-April 2001

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Artist Produces Illustrations of Children & Adults with Disabilities

By Madison Moore

snowman holding a wayfinder
The Problem:
Disabled children and/or adults are not among society's role models. There is no visual evidence and little story evidence that disabled individuals actually can and do excel at the same endeavors as nondisabled individuals--developing a career, parenting, living independently or participating in the arts or in physical pursuits.

Impact of the problem:
For society in general, the absence of the differently-abled from its role models, artistic representations and commercial imagery perpetuates social stereotypes, artificial limitations and low expectations. Disabled children are viewed by themselves, their parents, and their educators in a less positive manner than are their nondisabled counterparts. They develop poor self image, a lack of confidence and have low expectations for their futures. Employers withhold opportunity, educators expect less, parents limit life experience, the public pities, and disabled individuals evaluate themselves negatively. Everyone is taught to believe that opportunity and accomplishment in any endeavor is and should be available only to those without disability.

Three most important things to know about the problem:
All of the laws, the dialogues, and the programs combined lack the power of images to challenge the barriers to acceptance, equality, dignity, and the full participation in life by persons who are disabled.

The omission of this segment of the population from imagery and artistic representation that accurately depicts them is an indication that stereotypical perceptions, fear, and discrimination persists. It is evidence that acceptance of the differently-abled remains low and that society remains more comfortable hiding people with disabilities, particularly those with obvious visible differences, from mainstream society.

The problem has its origin in internal conditions. It exists in the hearts, minds, and behaviors of the society.

a mother and father give their daughter, seated in a wheelchair, her Kwanza gift
And why it has been so difficult to solve:
Spending, legislation and programs are all aimed at changing external conditions. Little attention is given to changing internal conditions: the beliefs and attitudes that creates perceptions of limitation and contributes to discrimination and a lack of opportunity.

Disability is a sensitive issue and not a popular subject for illustrators who are not themselves disabled.

Parents and care-givers are often reluctant to allow their child/charge's image to be made available commercially for fear that it will be used in a negative way or that the person will be exposed to unkind attentions.

From my personal experience:
In 1989 my husband and I published a directory of businesses in our county. To solve a staffing problem, we sought and hired people with disabilities for data verification activities. We hired seven people, most of whom were quadrapelegic. Prior to this experience, neither of us had ever met, let alone worked with anyone with a disability. Our hearts were won by the challenges our hirelings faced daily and in 1991, we were given the Equal Opportunity Employer Award.

I began to focus marketing efforts for my graphics work on the agencies and organizations involved in policy issues within the disability field (a list of clients can be found on the web site - click the "madgraphics" link on any page). Working on the high-profile projects mentioned on my web site, I was constantly aware of the utter absence of the disabled from commercial art collections and ended up creating custom graphics for my clients. This led me to the idea of creating commercial collections myself. In 1997 I launched the disabilityart.com web site with only two collections (volumes 01 and 02). Orders began immediately. My work is purchased by goverment agencies, Unversities and University Affiliated Programs (UAP), state departments of education and the businesses, agencies and organizations that provide services to people with disabiltiies and their families. I have distributors for my products in the United Kingdom and in Australia and am seeking one in Canada. Presently, I have found no other person or company that is creating artistic representations of people with disabilities.

Happy Hanukkah, a young man wearing a yarmulke lights a menorah with a long match held in his mouth
In creating the Hometown Holiday and Exceptional Angels collections, I had in mind how a child with a physical or mental disability might see a world in which the larger-than-life characters that mark our holidays are all non disabled. I wanted to create a disabled Santa and show the spirit of the holiday season, where the struggles of our daily lives are exchanged for acceptance, tolerance and love. I intend to draw an Easter Bunny with CP and a Tooth Fairy who is blind. I have dreams and visions of my images being seen by disabled and nondisabled children everywhere. My limitation, of course, is always money. I have to eat and live in the world - this limits my ability to have my images seen by as many children as possible and it was the catalyst that caused me to create the Storybook Project where I provide story and coloring/activity books about real people who are disabled. These are available free as a download from my web site and are written to teach lessons of acceptance, empowerment and the consequences of withheld opportunity.

I am a one-person business, completely self-funded and self-created (right down to the code). Due to funding issues, I can only work at this project part-time. (of course...I am always on the lookout for funding to allow me to create theme-specific collections - supported employment, independent living, etc.)

Ordering informationcan be found on my web site - the "pricing" and "ordering" pages give the details. What you get on each CD-Rom is explained on the "information" page.

Hometown Holiday AVAILABLE NOW
and Exceptional Angels COMING SOON
See previews by visiting the Images page:
Make your holiday greetings exceptional!
Call 301/924-2408 or e-mail orders@disabilityart.com

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