Celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities Around the World

UN Enable logoGovernments, United Nations agencies, and other institutions have been commemorating International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) annually on December 3 for over 20 years to promote awareness and mobilize support for issues related to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society. Members of the VSA Network are celebrating IDPD all over the world; read on to learn more about arts education events happening on December 3 in Egypt, Canada, and the United States.


VSA Egypt is celebrating IDPD with an in-school event for 120 students ages 5-16 with physical and motor disabilities. The event is a collaboration between VSA Egypt, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Culture; it includes arts and crafts activities, as well as games and sports competitions. VSA Egypt is also presenting a performance of a popular Cairo puppet show at the school, and snacks will be offered throughout the day.


Creative Spirit logo

CSAC logo

The Creative Spirit Art Centre (CSAC) in Toronto, Canada is celebrating IDPD with a lunchtime ceremony on December 3. The ceremony recognizes three individuals who have helped CSAC through their professional contributions in the field of art and disability. Those receiving awards are: Christina Martins, a politician working to make artists with disabilities visible by creating exhibitions in her constituency office; Amee Le from the Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto, who has created art programs and workshops for people with head injuries; and artist Mayuko Ueda, a volunteer art facilitator, administrator, and independent scholar in Art Brut practice in Japan and Canada. CSAC artists are presenting the three awardees with works of art at the ceremony.



A VSA Tennessee artist works on a clay piece.

On December 3, 2015, VSA Tennessee (United States) is hosting a reception at the Sumner County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in Gallatin, Tennessee. The reception features clay art created through a VSA Tennessee workshop under the direction of artist Kathy Plourde with Project 22. The workshop and art are part of an international art and education exchange with VSA Egypt. The event also features several VSA Tennessee performers, including VSA Tennessee Young Soloist winner Logan Blade, the Dulcimer Choir, and the Movement Connection dancers.


ArtsAccess image

Art by King Nobuyoshi Godwin

Also in the United States, Arts Access in Raleigh, North Carolina, is celebrating IDPD with an evening event on December 3. Arts Access’ “An Evening with Friends” at the Roundabout Art Collective in Raleigh features inclusive art, music, food, and drinks. Attendees also get a sneak preview of artist King Nobuyoshi Godwin’s new exhibit at the event.


The United Nations (UN) recognizes IDPD with a series of events at UN headquarters in New York. For more information about UN celebrations, visit their website.

Providing Music Education Opportunities for all Members of their Community

A Music Conservatory of Westchester student plays the drums.

A Music Conservatory of Westchester student plays the drums.

The Music Conservatory of Westchester is a community music school in New York with a mission to provide high quality music education to students of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. This includes serving 1,800 individuals with disabilities annually through their outreach program in local schools and institutions, and their onsite program in adapted instrumental or vocal instruction. Executive Director Jean Newton and Director of Outreach Services Lisa Sandagata shared the history of their program, as well as some of their promising practices for working with students with disabilities.

When the Music Conservatory of Westchester began its music education program for students with disabilities in 1986, Newton says it was after staff realized a portion of their community was being excluded from the kind of music instruction the school offered. The program started small but grew quickly, and today the organization serves 1,800 individuals with disabilities, with about 70-75% of those being children, annually. The conservatory works in partnership with over 30 organizations for its outreach program, including public schools, hospitals, nursing homes, residential treatment facilities, and social service agencies.

Students sit at a table with their music teacher.

Students sit at a table with their music teacher.

Under their current VSA International Young Soloists: Music for Every Student contract, the conservatory’s outreach program will serve 400 elementary, middle, and high school students with disabilities in six school districts for a total of 1,148 music classes. The contract also includes an onsite program at the conservatory that serves 35 students with disabilities in adapted instrumental or vocal instruction. Participating students have a wide range of disabilities, from autism spectrum disorders to emotional behavioral disorders to cerebral palsy.

Director of Outreach Services Lisa Sandagata says the program for students with disabilities has received a great reception in school districts, which she attributes to good relationships between the school educators and teaching artists. Sandagata says, “There is a shared interest in creating an experience that helps students adapt and functionalize around music.” In fact, one of the program’s primary goals is to help students with disabilities develop skills in the music classroom that support their academic and social goals.

A student plays a drum while a music teacher holds a guitar.

A student plays a drum while a music teacher holds a guitar.

The Music Conservatory of Westchester tailors music activities to the specific needs of each class and individual student. Students learn basic music competencies (pitch, rhythm, melody, harmony), introduction to instrumental technique (keyboard, guitar, drums, voice), songwriting, improvisation, world percussion, and rhythm instruments.

Sandagata says Conservatory staff also work with in-school music educators to provide advice and support on teaching both self-contained music classes for students with disabilities and classes that are integrated to include students with and without disabilities. She advises music teachers that many self-contained classes need a little more structure than they might be used to offering in a music class; for instance, students might work better sitting in chairs rather than on the floor, helping to provide physical boundaries.

Sandagata also cited an example from an integrated class where she encouraged an elementary school music teacher to provide a student with autism spectrum disorder a music stand to hold his sheet music rather than asking him to hold it in his hands. “With the music out of his hands, the student’s head looked up at the conductor and many disruptive behaviors disappeared, keeping his attention on the task at hand,” says Sandagata.

A Music Conservatory of Westchester student plays a drum with her teacher.

A Music Conservatory of Westchester student plays a drum with her teacher.

When it comes to assessing their work, Newton and Sandagata say their focus is supporting the goals created for students by their schools. Individuals are assessed when they begin the music program to benchmark learning goals, and progress is measured, often in collaboration with a classroom teacher, throughout the semester. Newton points out that even specific music education goals, like learning to read music or play the piano, are often intertwined with social and emotional skill development like increased attention span and focus or improved communication and socialization skills.

A wide spectrum of skill development is a benefit of music education for all students, says Newton, and not just students with disabilities. “Any child that comes [to the Music Conservatory of Westchester] is learning valuable skill sets, from critical thinking to teamwork and beyond,” she says, continuing, “And that’s what is so special about our work, that students with disabilities are coming for a music experience that is comparable to their peers, creating an integrated community where everyone can share their musical interests and discoveries.”