Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
Students, artists, teachers and volunteers visit Caltrans District 7 Office Museum where student artwork is displayed during Disablity Awareness Month.

Hands-On Art Education
by  Maria Raptis
Issue Date: 11/2009

Art Students from the Braille Institute of Los Angeles Sight Center display their creative works for Caltrans in recognition of Disability Awareness Month

 As part of October’s Disability Awareness Month, an array of artwork, hand-crafted by students from the Braille Institute for the Blind in Los Angeles, continues to be on display in the Caltrans lobby area museum in the District 7 Office Building.

Hands-on-only art education is meant quite literally as most of the students have lost their sense of vision in the last five to 10 years, and rely only on their hands as tools to guide them through their artistic assignments.

“I teach mainly newly blind or legally blind students to express themselves by making art,” says, Dori Atlantis, art instructor since 1985 at the Los Angeles Braille Institute. “Students use their visual memory, sensory skills and sometimes residual vision to gain skills in printmaking, ceramics, mosaic tile, papier mache, and mixed media.”

In addition to art, students learn many types of new skills such as cooking, independent living with visual loss, reading in Braille, money management and personal grooming. Atlantis says that being organized is the key to success. By organized, she means seat assignments remain constant, all the tools are organized, and items are always in their place.

Disability Awareness Month is observed throughout the United States to recognize the contributions, talents, skills and dedication of working Americans with disabilities. According to the California Department of Rehabilitation, there are 4.5 million Californians with approximately 900 known disabilities. The U.S. Census accounts for 54 million people in this country live with disabilities – that is one out of every five Americans.

District 7 held its 6th annual 2009 Diversity and Disability Awareness Day on October 15, coordinated by the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and the Disability Advisory Council, comprised of the following Caltrans employees: John Dinsmore, Chair; Francisco Parras Jr., Co-Chair; and subcommittee members Sylvia Delgado, Dan Dunn, John Zaki, Seyed Torabzadeh, Michelle Quan, Harry Begin, Eric Samaniego, Alex Kirkish.

This popular and inter-active event is an effort to promote understanding and compassion for employees who face various challenges and disabilities. Almost everyone is touched by disability in some way, whether the disabled is a family member, friend, co-worker, or neighbor.

“The Department’s Deputy Directive for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and State Disability Laws (DD-42-R3), make every effort to ensure equal employment opportunities for employees and applicants, including those with a disability, by providing access opportunities to departmental programs, services, and activities,” says Gwiin Correa, Branch Chief; Office of Equal Opportunity. “Remember, it is an organizational, as well as an individual responsibility to treat each other with courtesy, dignity and respect.”

“We must be sensitive to each other's needs, said Sylvia Delgado, EEO Officer, ADA and Title VI Liaison. “This includes speaking up when a person may be hearing impaired; keeping all areas clear of boxes and obstacles, when a person may be legally blind; or, by simply ensuring that the disabled bathroom stalls are available for the individual who may need it.”

Here is a list of ‘Ten Common Courtesies For Communicating with People with Disabilities’ (taken from the Department of Rehabilitation):
*Speak directly rather than through a companion or sign language interpreter who may be present.
*Offer to shake hands when introduced. People with limited hand use or an artificial limb can usually shake hands and offering the left hand is an acceptable greeting.
*Always identify yourself and others who may be with you when meeting someone with a visual disability. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking. When dining with someone who has a visual disability, ask if you can describe what is on his or her plate.
*If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen or ask for instructions.
*Treat adults as adults. Address people with disabilities by their first names only when extending that same familiarity to all others. Never patronize people in wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder.
*Do not lean against or hang on someone’s wheelchair. Bear in mind that people with disabilities treat their chairs as extensions of their bodies. And so do people with guide dogs and help dogs. Never distract a work animal from its job without the owner’s permission. *Listen attentively when talking with people who have difficulty speaking and wait for them to finish. If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, or a nod of the head. Never pretend to understand; instead repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond.
*Place yourself at eye level when speaking with someone in a wheelchair or on crutches.
*Tap a person who has a hearing disability on the shoulder or wave your hand to get his or her attention. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly, and expressively to establish if the person can read your lips. If so, try to face the light source and keep hands, cigarettes and food away from your mouth when speaking. If a person is wearing a hearing aid, don’t assume that they have the ability to discriminate your speaking voice. Never shout to a person. Just speak in a normal tone of voice.
*Relax. Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use common expressions such as “See you later” or “Did you hear about this?” that seems to relate to a person’s disability.

A guest views a mosaic piece of artwork done by a student at the Braille Institute and Sight Center in Los Angeles. Octopus Man, ceramic sculpture, by Jose Gomez. Giraffe, papier mache, by Rena Wander. My Father, ceramic, by Malcolm Johnson.