October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, but I didn’t know that until I started to do some research to write this blog post. December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. I didn’t know that either. As a former special education teacher, it seems like I should have. But, honestly, what I wish I had thought more about during my teaching career isn’t just disability awareness, it’s ability awareness. We shouldn’t only consider this as teachers, it is also something that we need to share with all our students. Unbound: The Life + Art of Judith Scott by Joyce Scott with Brie Spangler and with art by Melissa Sweet, is a perfect introduction to ability awareness for young students.
The author of this beautiful picture book, Joyce, is Judith Scott’s twin sister. Born in 1943, the two of them were constant companions until Joyce started kindergarten. As a child with Down syndrome, it would take almost thirty years before the federal government would realize that children just like Judith were entitled to a free and appropriate public education (the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was enacted in 1975). Instead of going to school with her sister, Judith was sent to an institution where she spent the next thirty-five years of her life. Still, the connection between these sisters was too strong to ever break.
As soon as Joyce could, she brought Judith to live with her family in California and it was there that Judith started spending time at the Creative Growth Art Center which offers programs for adults with disabilities. It took a little time, but one day Judith began working with found objects and yarn, creating beautiful sculptures out of everyday objects. Her colorful creations end up becoming so famous that they are exhibited around the world. While Judith did not speak (she was Deaf), her fiber art creations told stories that were beautiful, unique, and extraordinary.
Judith Scott had a disability that made her life more challenging, but she also had an ability to create that was truly exceptional. It allowed her to communicate with people in ways that went beyond words. Had this ability been discovered sooner, what might she have created over the course of her lifetime? If we focused more on discovering the infinite abilities of children and adults with disabilities, rather than trying to make them fit what has been termed normal or typical, what could they end up accomplishing? I would very much like to find out.
Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards:
Diversity 6: I like knowing people who are like me and different from me, and I treat each person with respect.
Diversity 8: I want to know more about other people’s lives and experiences, and I know how to ask questions respectfully and listen carefully and non-judgmentally.