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Lesson Plan from VSA Arts

Communities for All

Grades 5-9

Through the show, Juan, Leah, Chase, and Wednesday talk about their life through confronting barriers to access in their neighborhood and community, places most of us just take for granted. The objective of these lessons is to apply the experience of these four young people to the community that surrounds your school. Our hope is that students will discuss how school, transportation system and communities contain potential barriers for people with disabilities. By engaging in a series of creative exercises, students will display an understanding and awareness of barriers and how to create and identify a barrier-free environment. Through the activities, they will discover that an accessible environment supports people with disabilities in pursuing their interests and is better for everyone. They will identify ways communities can support and provide equal access for people with disabilities.

National Standards for Arts Education: Visual Arts, Grades 5-8
Content Standard #1: Understanding and applying media, techniques, and process
Content Standard #6: Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines
McRel Health Standards #10
Understands individual differences

DVD of Nick News with Linda Ellerbee: The View From My Chair
Pictures of buildings highlighting various architectural features
6-8 feet of heavy Kraft paper from a 36-inch role
Drawing paper
Markers, crayons, colored pencils
Paint, brushes, and water
Pictures from magazines or art reproductions illustrating foreground
Fabric and assorted collage materials
Disposable cameras with names of students on the back

Introduction Lesson-Barriers for People with Disabilities

After viewing the episode of Nick News with Linda Ellerbee: The View From My Chair, the first lesson will address defining what a barrier, physical or visible, would be. Discussion would include presentations of examples such as table in a doorway and personal experiences from the student who have dealt with barriers or have seen people with disabilities experience obstacles.

Procedure for Lesson 1

Teacher’s Preparation for Class Activity for lesson 1

Prior to class, teacher will place a desk or other large object in front of the doorway and keep it there as students come into the class without explaining why the desk is blocking the way.

Introduction to Lesson

Teacher would welcome students to the classroom and ask the question: what would be considered a barrier for people with disabilities to participate and travel within a community? Images of physical barriers would be projected on the wall to stimulate discussion. Prior to class, the word BARRIER and other synonyms with definitions will be written on the board.

Lesson Activity:

Once the students figure out a way to navigate around the desk and settle into their seats, teacher would direct the students’ attention the introduction lesson with the visual aids.


At the end of the class, last fifteen minutes, distribute journals and have the students write about or draw their personal experiences with barriers. These journals will stay with the classroom and begins lesson 2.

Questions to stimulate writing:

• Have any of you ever had something obstruct or get in the way of something you wanted to do? Describe your experience.


1. Student wanted to go to the mall but had no one to drive or no money to travel there.

2. Student wanted cookies in the kitchen but they were placed on the top shelf and were out of reach.

Procedure for Lesson 2: Strategies and Solutions to Barriers

Teacher’s Preparation for Class Activity for lesson 2

Prior to class, cover an empty wall with drawing paper with supplies, listed above, laid out nearby. Set out the journals on the desk of the students. Have disposable camera ready to hand out to students at the end of class.

Introduction to Lesson

Using the journal entries from last lesson, have each student read out loud their stories while the rest of the class closes their eyes and envision enacting the story themselves. The teacher writes key words, obstacles, and potential challenges that appear in the story. Some questions to stimulate discussion on barriers for the activities would include:

1. How do you move from place to place? Who surrounded you and how did that make you feel?

2. How do you carry your things? What muscle groups and extremities did you use? Could you have done the same activity another way?

3. What physical and audio clues where there to tell you what to do?

Lesson Activity:

After stories have been read, begin a discussion on what the students’ experience were when verbally led through the story. Discuss possible solutions to some of the obstacles listed on the board. Have the students pick out an obstacle for each story and allow them to brainstorm to imagine creative ideas for a barrier-free community. Teacher list the ideas on the board.


At the end of class, ask students to look at the words, write down the obstacles and the solutions in their journal. Let them know the next lesson will be using the paper and art supplies that are against the wall. Ask them to be thinking about how these solutions and ideas can be made into a community picture or mural and what a barrier-free community would look like. Hand out the cameras and ask them to take pictures over the next few days in their community documenting barriers and solutions to barriers throughout their daily routine. Photographs will be developed and put on display in the classroom before final lesson can begin.

Procedure for Final Lesson 3: Creating a Community for All Mural

Teacher’s Preparation for Class Activity for lesson 3

Place supplies and photographs next to blank drawing paper on the wall.

Introduction to the Lesson

Teacher welcomes students. After they settle into their desks, the teacher will explain the mural making activity. The teacher will ask the students about their ideas of a barrier-free community and how their individual photos related to their ideas.

Also, the teacher will introduce the concept of “universal design” as accommodating not only people with a variety of disabilities but all people, such as people with baby strollers, skaters, people who speak different languages, elderly people. Some questions to stimulate ideas and conversation:

• How does the barrier-free solution support people with disabilities in better pursuing their interests?

• Is accessibility solutions benefit more than people with disabilities, if yes, how so?

Lesson Activity

Have the students get up and move to one section of the drawing paper wall. Each student will pick a theme or obstacle they would like to draw along with the solution to overcome it. Have the students draw the idea with the given supplies and even the photos. Once all ideas have been place on the wall, the students will move over to an empty part and as a group, draw connections to each idea to form a cohesive picture of a community mural with universal design access to all.


Students will write their reflections in their journal about the project. They will describe how they felt and believed in certain ideas and preconceptions of people with disabilities before the project and if they changed and how after the mural is completed. The students will have developed a deeper understanding and sensory awareness of obstacles that are in the daily life of people with disabilities.

Related and Additional Activities:

Challenge 1

Ever since she was a little girl, Sally has loved to paint. She has become famous for her murals big enough to cover whole walls. One of her paintings was purchased to hang in the waiting room of a large airport. Last year Sally was in a car accident and now she uses a wheelchair, and still loves to paint. However, she is unable to make the large works because she can’t climb a ladder.

Just as Wednesday uses a wheelchair at school that lifts her to reach books on a bookshelf, consider how Sally might continue to work on her painting. Your challenge is to design a machine that will allow Sally to reach up to at least 6 feet to paint her murals.

Challenge 2

In the video, Juan is excited by his ability to continue to play soccer in his wheelchair. Let’s pretend his family just moved to a new house and is planning to put in a swimming pool. Let’s also say Juan is a good swimmer, and his family would like for him to be able to use the pool by himself.

Your challenge is to design a method, tool, or machine that Juan could operate by himself that would lower him down and raise him up out of the water. Of course, it must be waterproof and be easy for him to use.

Challenge 3

In the cafeteria, all the students carry their lunch on trays. Design something to help Juan, Leah, Chase, and Wednesday carry their tray from the service line to their table with their friends.

These lessons and challenge activities are adapted from “Express Diversity,” an educational resource that combines creative activities with disability awareness for middle school students. This resource reminds us all the disability is an important and critical element of diversity. For additional information, visit www.vsarts.org

About VSA arts

VSA arts is an international nonprofit organization founded in 1974 by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith to create a society where people with disabilities learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts. VSA arts provides educators, parents, and artists with resources and the tools to support arts programming in schools and communities. VSA arts showcases the accomplishments of artists with disabilities and promotes increased access to the arts for people with disabilities. Each year millions of people participate in VSA arts programs through a nationwide network of affiliates and in 55 countries around the world. VSA arts is an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. For more information, please visit www.vsarts.org

Lesson plan from VSA arts (affiliate of the JFK Center for Performing Arts)