Monday, June 15, 2009

Turning the lens around

Conventional art can be frustrating for kids with disabilities who have great ideas but poor fine-motor skills.

But digital photography is proving more accessible. The photo above was taken by a participant in Light Writers, a 10-week digital photography course for youth with and without disabilities at Bloorview’s Centre for the Arts.

“Digital cameras are accessible and don’t require the fine-motor dexterity needed for drawing or clay,” says commercial photographer Brenda Spielmann, who runs the program. “They can be used in a wheelchair or with the child operating a switch.”

Brenda says the purpose of Light Writers is “to teach photography as an art medium, to empower the children and to give them an option for a vocational skill.”

She notes that children with disabilities are often the subject of photos “and it’s important that we change the lens around and give them the skills to photograph their lives from their own point of view. In this program, they’re not outsiders anymore. They’re in control.”

The program is called Light Writers because “photography means drawing with light and the usage of light is a big component. I try to teach them to look at light and how it falls on different subjects – it could be street scenes, people they love, objects they like.”

The class is limited to six participants and they work in teams of two at three computers.

One project involved the group collaborating with children on Bloorview’s complex, continuing-care unit. The photography group would send a photo up to the unit and the kids on the unit would write a related poem and then send it back. Sometimes the inpatients would send a poem down and the Light Writers group would shoot a picture to accompany it. “They didn’t know each other and that was the beauty of it,” Brenda says. “There was no expectation, they weren’t visualizing the other person. They were working purely on the creative side.”

Brenda wants to expand the Light Writers program across Canada, and would love to connect with photographers interested in getting involved, or families. E-mail her at

Or post a comment about your child’s experience with digital photography.