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Arts & Crafts Activities for Adults with Physical Disabilities

Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

People with physical disabilities often have trouble expressing themselves creatively. The following arts and crafts activities are designed to be enjoyed by adults with physical disabilities.

Creating Art with Physical Disabilities

Imagine having ideas but not being able to express them because your body just won't cooperate. Arts and crafts are a great way to express creativity, but a person with physical disabilities often has difficulty with traditional arts and crafts projects because they require high levels of dexterity and fine motor skills.

This lesson offers arts and crafts projects design for students (artists) with physical disabilities. The projects are organized by level of fine motor skill required.

High Motor Skills

These activities are designed for people with relatively high to moderate fine motor skills. They should be able to manipulate their fingers and grasp large objects.

Food Art

Cut hard root vegetables in half and carve shapes out of the flat end. Potato, sweet potato and large-diameter carrots work great for this. When you have finished, the shape should be protruding from the vegetable (it should be convex instead of concave). Make sure there is enough of the vegetable for the artist to grasp.

Supply many different plates of paint color with the 'food stamps' and allow your artists to get creative with their choice of vegetable shape and paint color to make works of stamp-art.

Glitter Pictures

Your artists will need large glue sticks. The larger the size in diameter, the easier it will be to hold and manipulate. Consider the dexterity and fine motor skills your students have as you choose glue sticks to use.

They will also need shakers with glitter. Again, if you can find easy-hold shakers, that would be great. Some industrial/restaurant-style Parmesan cheese shakers have handles and work great as glitter shakers. Glue some of the glitter to the outside of the shaker for easy identification of the glitter color.

Artists should make designs on paper with the glue sticks. Quickly, after finishing the glue work, they shake as much glitter as they like over the wet glue. Carefully pick up the paper and tap off the excess glue (depending on physical ability and hand/finger strength, your students may need help with this step). The result is a beautiful picture made from glitter sticking to the wet glue design.

Conducting the art task on large cooking trays helps with clean-up of excess glitter.

Modelling Clay

Modelling clay is much harder to manipulate than other molding materials (like play dough). For artists with slight fine motor/physical disability concerns with their hands, the therapeutic benefits of using a slightly stiff modelling clay can be as important as the resulting artwork. Do not use modelling clay for students with severe or moderately-severe hand strength concerns.

Ask students to create a long snake shape out of their clay using kneading and rolling motions and then wind that snake into a piece of art (like a bowl, cup or even an actual snake if they like). The act of kneading and rolling will exercise their hand and finger muscles while they create works of art.

Reduced Fine Motor Skills

Some physically disabled students have reduced use of their hands and fingers. That does not mean that they are unable to enjoy art; it just means they must create in different ways. These art projects are designed for artists with moderate/severe fine motor difficulties or low hand strength.

Painting Strings

For students with use of their arms, but not hands, consider this string-based painting project. Tie multiple strings to the student's arm/wrist area. Encourage or help the student to draw the strings through a plate of paint and then over a blank page of paper.

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