ED&I Commission Column: Feb/Mar 2022

NAEA News Feb/Mar 2022

The columns for this issue of NAEA News were written prior to the 2022 National Convention. As such, you may find information about Convention sessions and references to past occurrences in the future tense.

Engaging (Dis)ability in Art Education

“It is not possible to favor justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Applying Dr. King’s quote to art education, art educators should favor justice for all. If art educators focus on disability, disability justice needs to permeate the fabric of art education for all learners.

An activist sociopolitical framework for examining disabilities and ableism, disability justice recognizes that people with disabilities represent other marginalized communities—people of color; immigrants; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit (2S), androgynous, and asexual people; homeless people; incarcerated people; and people who have had their ancestral lands stolen (Keifer-Boyd et al., 2018). Moreover, examining how the entanglements of gender, sexuality, race, Tribal citizenship, and class contribute to the oppression of people with disabilities “centers intersectionality and the ways diverse systems of oppression amplify and reinforce one another” (Disability & Philanthropy Forum, 2021, para. 1).

As education policy shifts to more inclusive practices, the column authors encourage thoughtful discussions concerning disabilities and disability justice in art education and invite art educators to consider disability justice in curricular decision making to empower learners to participate more fully in the classroom and other learning spaces.

Recognizing that people with disabilities have different backgrounds and experiences concerning immigration status, race, Tribal citizenship, class, gender, sexuality, age, and other concerns, art educators can design classrooms and instruction with disability justice in mind. Art educators can develop plans to provide equity in access to creative spaces, experiences, curriculum, and supplies through collaborations with other educators, administrators, and community members. Art teachers can organize and configure learning spaces to ensure access and mobility. They can craft lessons to accommodate wide-ranging disabilities and impairments, including the visual, auditory, developmental, emotional, and learning capabilities of students, to meet the needs of their community of learners.

Multiple entry points exist for integrating disability justice into learning spaces. Therefore, art educators might explore the following:

  • Consider the use of language in learning spaces. Wexler (2016) highlights the use of terms such as inclusion and general education as inherently polarizing and perpetuating the idea that some students do not belong.
  • Understand how disability justice in art education allows students to reflect the cultures of their communities within their artistic expression (Blandy, 1999). Many deaf individuals, for example, identify themselves as members of both a cultural and linguistic group and may choose to express the importance of deaf culture through their art in addition to their other cultural identifiers.
  • Make space for alternative ways of learning and creating. For example, provide adaptive art materials to all students, regardless of need, to accommodate learning for all.
  • Become familiar with the scholarship of disability advocates in art education such as Alice Wexler, Karen Keifer-Boyd, J. T. Eisenhauer Richardson, and Mira Kallio-Tavin. These scholars have extensively researched and identified the needs of individuals with disabilities along with ways that art educators can effectively empower them in their creative spaces.
  • Acknowledge that ableism is as insidious as other “isms” and can be hard for people without disabilities to identify. Seek out first-person narratives of disability to avoid speaking “to” or “for” the disabled community.
  • Recognize that each of your students has a unique life experience and that any disability they may have cannot be separated from their other social and cultural identifiers. Centering equity in the classroom means acknowledging and responding to the intersectionality of students with disabilities.

In sum, disability justice is not monolithic. Instead, ableism differs for learners with various disabilities and individuals representing different races, Tribal citizenship, social classes, and genders. When art educators focus on disability justice, interconnectivity and entanglements between ableism and other systems of oppression take precedence. Thus, disability justice is an effective way to accommodate and secure liberation for multiple learners from marginalized populations.


Blandy, D. (1999). A disability aesthetic, inclusion, and art education. In A. L. Nyman & A. M. Jenkins (Eds.), Issues and approaches to art for students with special needs (pp. 34–41). National Art Education Association.

Disability & Philanthropy Forum (n.d.). What is disability justice? Retrieved January 13, 2022, from

Keifer-Boyd, K., Bastos, F., (Eisenhauer) Richardson, J., & Wexler, A. (2018). Disability justice: Rethinking “inclusion” in arts education research. Studies in Art Education, 59(3), 267–271.

Wexler, A. J. (2016). Re-imagining inclusion/exclusion: Unpacking assumptions and contradictions in arts and special education from a critical disability studies perspective. Journal of Social Theory in Art Education, 36, 32–42.

Column by:

Browning M. Neddeau, ED&I Commission Chair
Jointly Appointed Assistant Professor of Elementary Teacher Education and American Indian Studies, California State University, Chico. Email:

Wanda B. Knight, NAEA President-Elect. Associate Professor of Art Education, African American Studies, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Professor-in-Charge of Art Education, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park. Email:

Noel Bella Merriam, Museum Commissioner, NAEA ED&I Commission. AT&T Director of Education, Diversity, and Inclusion, San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, Texas. Email:

Kristin Ponden, Visual Arts Department Chair, The Unquowa School, Fairfield, Connecticut. Email:

Emily Saleh, Preservice Commissioner, NAEA ED&I Commission. Upper Elementary School, Princeton Junction, NJ. Email:

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