Exploring disability through the eyes of youth

Last updated: Thursday, 14 December 2023

Children's models

Disability History Month is an annual campaign that puts disability at the forefront. It places the spotlight on disabled people and the importance of improving inclusion within society.

Inspired by the 2023 campaign theme of ‘disability, children and youth’, the Disability and Wellness Network (DAWN) at Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals joined forces with 2 local schools (Harefield School in Harefield and Queen’s Gate School in Chelsea) to produce artwork under the theme of ‘disability, heart and lungs’.

The aim of the project was to enable young people to express their creativity and explore disability, diversity and inclusion through art – with the hope that they learn, and positively impact on the experience of patients, families and staff at the hospitals, where their final pieces are to be displayed. A short film was produced to show the project from start to finish.

Ras Kahai, respiratory dietitian and co-chair of DAWN, explained the thought process behind the project: “I had a memory of when I was a child about getting involved in an art project for our local hospital. 20 years later, the artwork is still up there to this day. So, I suddenly thought, ‘is that a way we could spread and scale a little about disability knowledge and disability education to our local communities and get them involved with our hospitals?’”

Robert Craig, director of operations and executive sponsor of DAWN, said: “One of the things that we’ve learned here is the importance of raising awareness of disability in healthcare and everywhere in society. Being able to get these children at a young age and engage with them through art that we can present in the hospital, it’s a brilliant relationship that we can build with the school.”

Dervall Russell, Harefield Hospital director, commented: “I was delighted to hear about this project, particularly because it’s such a local collaboration between Harefield School and Harefield Hospital and we are such part of the local community.”

Roberto Luzardo, art teacher at Harefield School, said: “The way we looked into it was understanding what disability is in the 21st century. For some of them it’s actually a first-person matter – many of them are going through a disability themselves, and some of them are actually patients of the hospital. It was really good because they could see the community, the hospital, as well as themselves from a different lens and perspective.”

Sasha Mataya, head of art at Queen’s Gate School, also said: “For me personally, I’m neurodiverse and I try to sort of focus my energy and disguise the problems I’m facing through producing art. When a person works within the art world, disability doesn’t exist because anyone can produce art and anyone is able to express themselves in one way or another. Art is a unique language and it breaks the barriers of disability.”

Unveiling the pieces on hospital walls took place in November, with many staff and patients commenting on how they had livened up the space.

One patient commented: “It added life, and I temporarily forgot my clinical problems.”

A member of staff said: “They are the main topic of patients and nurses now, and everyone has been coming to the department to see them. I feel like we have an art gallery!”

Richard Grocott-Mason, chief executive of Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals – part of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, also praised the project for generating such buzz and positivity across the hospitals: “I’d like to extend my thanks to the young people and staff who have contributed such fantastic artwork that’s now up on the walls in our hospitals, which will really brighten the environment for our patients and bring a smile to their faces. Well done!”

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