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Colin Hambrook gives an overview on some of the achievements of Driving Inspiration / 24 July 2011

On 14th July Mandeville School played host to a massive celebration of the work produced by artists, paralympians and students from all 14 schools who have taken part in Driving Inspiration. The day consisted of a frenetic hive of activity: exhibitions, performances and workshops giving 350 students an incredible opportunity to get an idea of the breadth and excitement of the project.

I went along to work with some of the children to give them an opportunity to blog on DAO [ ] about their experience of being part of Driving Inspiration and to talk to artists and teachers to get their impressions of the benefits of the program.

One of the obvious benefits is providing non-disabled students a real experience of working with disabled people. A typical comment from a young lad seems to sum up a lot of what the program has been about: “You don’t have to treat [disabled people] like you feel sorry for them or anything. You can treat them like a normal person.” I got a strong sense of how in a down-to-earth way through experience of working with disabled artists and sportspeople, Driving Inspiration is giving these children a unique – if individualised - opportunity to see another side to the sterotypes promulgated by the press and media about what disability and impairment mean to those of us who live with it.

Kat – a teacher from Beaconsfield School explained to me how working with artists and sportspeople had impacted on her work with students from Beaconsfield School: “I think what’s been interesting is that the project is that has given the children the chance to learn practical things about art-making and the Paralympics, but also about wider issues about how people develop resilience and adapt to their circumstances. It has been an eye opener at different times and has been really useful in turns of their learning.”

From the other side of the coin artist Anya Ustaszewski, talked about how Driving Inspiration had given her encouragement about a change in perspective: “It’s been very useful to have had the chance to talk to students about disability. I had a pretty lousy time at school. If disability was spoken about at all it was euphemistically. It was always in terms of being ‘the special needs kids from the special needs unit.’ This project has given me an angle on how attitudes have changed; how much more open you can be with children in talking frankly about disability.”

Another achievement of Driving Inspiration has been the cross curricular format the programme has developed. It challenges the conventional way education works, by cutting everything into isolated subjects and gives a much more realistic experience of how the world works in combining processes. So for example a music score created in one series of workshops, inspired art-making in another set of workshops. The music and art were then used as a starting point for choreography with dance students. And finally T-shirts were printed of two of the central images worn by the dancers.

The day itself felt very enjoyable if chaotic. All the students I spoke to got something out of the art and sports activities. At the same time they have also taken on board some real-life experience of how impairment impacts on individuals lives. There may or may not be revelations, but it is a starting point for breaking down the fear that difference engenders. Driving Inspiration is having a big impact and will continue to be a unique opportunity to give schools the chance to engage with disabled artists and break through taboos.