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Research on Art & Visual Impairment

I first became interested in the area of art and visual impairment when I was studying for my Degree in Craft Design Ceramics at the National College of Art and Design Dublin (1989-1993). As I advanced in my degree studies I realised that I needed to examine how my having a visual impairment impacted on my art work. It became obvious to me that the set of artistic principles I was applying myself to and the skills I was endeavouring to acquire, were in the main visual. This encouraged me to evolve ways of recording my environment and making that better complimented my actual way of seeing.

During my degree studies this resulted in me devising a tactile set of references loosely based on massage strokes as forms of mark making. These I applied to wall murals, which culminated in my final year degree show exhibition titled 'In Touch'. A tactile architectural wall mural measuring 22ft x 4.5ft. In tandem, I used my thesis to investigate art by visually impaired and blind people and art designed with their appreciation in mind.

Subsequent to completing my degree I organised research trips to the United Kingdom (Nov 93) and Japan (May 94), where I met artists and teachers as well as individuals interested in involving visually impaired people in all levels of artistic endeavour, from the recreational to the professional.

In September 1994 I joined the Richard Attenborough Centre for Disabilities and the Arts at the University of Leicester as their Artist in Residence and Teacher. This gave me many opportunities to share in innovative work by the Centre on the development of long- term strategies to facilitate visually impaired and blind people continuing art and design through Secondary School and on to Further and Higher Education. It was my first chance to develop my own techniques on the use of touch in art as a teaching tool. This resulted in many touch art workshops and lead to an Adult Education class 'Touch as a Way of Making Sculpture'. In June 95, I mounted a tactile ceramic installation 'My Hands on You'. In February 97 the Richard Attenborough Centre published a document called 'Artists at Work' which I researched, profiling 7 professional artists with a visual impairment working in a variety of fields.

Devising ways of making use of the sense of touch in Art and Design teaching for all, is something that interests me greatly. To that end, my PGCE studies in Art and Design Secondary Teaching at Bretton Hall College have been instrumental, in deepening my understanding of the UK's National Curriculum in Art and Design at Secondary School level. And how its Attainment Targets and Programmes of Study could be used in modules/schemes of work, to use touch as a primary rather than a subsidiary means of learning, in appropriate instances.

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