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by Nicole Ferguson, Department Chair of the College of Adaptive Arts School of Art

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From the beginning, College of Adaptive Arts, one core belief has always been “perception, not perfection.” In our society, we are driven to be perfect. To have the perfect grades, the perfect job, and the perfect life . We pose for and post our perfect selfies on Twitter and Instagram. We continue to perpetuate the illusion of perfection all over Facebook. At CAA, this shift in thought from “perfection to perception” is a unique concept for many people and adults with differing abilities. Students, who thought they weren’t skilled enough to dance, act, sing or paint, might have never tried. CAA continues to build classes that are safe places to learn, free from judgment, while supporting creativity and courage to explore different areas in the arts. For our college students, the illusion of perfection has been broken. All CAA students get the chance to experience real success, hard work, form lasting friendships, and find what they are passionate about in life and as performing artists. Perfection is only an illusion. Believe in yourself…that’s real.

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by Nicole Kim


Nicole with ReneeI am a professor at College of Adaptive Arts for the Speaking with Confidence class but I am also a parent of an adult with Down syndrome. As Said’s mom, I’ve been used to being his advocate his entire life. Speaking for him and giving him a voice when he didn’t have one. Now that he is 26 and has just moved out in a supported living situation, I recognize the importance of him having his own voice and having the ability to speak for himself. Self-advocacy and self-determination are important skills for people with disabilities to possess and I’d like to share 3 ways you can help your adult gain self-advocacy skills.

Self-advocacy is the act of representing yourself or your own views. Self-determination is the process of taking control and making decisions that affect one’s life. Self-determination helps us make choices, decisions, problem solve, set and attain goals, self-advocate and perform independently. Both are essential for our adult children as they transition to adulthood and independence. It doesn’t matter where your student is in their process, even if they live with you or with caregivers, they can, and should always be, self-advocates!

1. Increase Self-Awareness - Help your student make a list of 3-5 things they are good at and what they need help with.

a. I don’t call it “strengths” and “weaknesses” because we ALL have things we need help with. Part of self-advocacy is knowing when to ask for help and that is NOT a weakness. When we are aware of our limits and abilities, we can be more aware of when we really need help and be able to articulate what help we need.

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by DeAnna Pursai

We use this phrase often at the College of Adaptive Arts, in our mission, our vision, our mottos in reference to our dynamic student body and professors and staff. This past week we’ve had our first amazing dance video go viral, and it truly represents the essence of what it means to CAA to empower our Student Body to be Successful Contributing Citizens through the Arts. This particular student dancer wore her very own red dress (all the other student dancers were in black), and performed her own choreography to a piece that she self-selected. It was the Spring Recital Night of our Graduate Dance Clinic of student dancers, choreographers, and budding dance instructors.

This student’s joy of dance and artistic expression is sincerely palpable and infectious. She was sincerely and truly in her element, dancing with conviction, eloquence, and sheer joy. One of the beautiful back stories is that her father was in the audience, and it is a rare treat when he can get off work and enjoy his daughter’s performance. The saying above the dance mirror states ‘To Watch Us Dance is to Hear Our Hearts Speak’ (Hopi Native American saying). In this dancer’s instance, her heart spoke with such sincere conviction and has touched so many hearts in the afterglow.

These dancers, all adults with disabilities, make such exquisite contributions to our College each and every time they step through the CAA doors to continue to grow, learn, share, and performb2ap3_thumbnail_dancing2.jpg. They have such rich stories to tell through their dance moves, their poetry, their paintbrushes, their cameras, their musical instruments. It is such a compelling story that makes everyone around them feel more alive and vibrant. When I’m with the students at the College of Adaptive Arts, I become recalibrated each time as to what is really important and meaningful in the overall realm of life.

Another beautiful backstory I’d like to share is that this video that went viral was videotaped, edited, and uploaded as well by a CAA Professor who is also an adult with a differing ability. Many of our staff have struggled in a typical workforce environment. At the College of Adaptive Arts, we are creating a safe, joyful and creative space for our professors and staff to also flourish and thrive in their authentic gifts and abilities.

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by Danie Weaver

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So many times connections are made through a screen. However recently I was able to break that trend and host a student council event at Vasona Park in Los Gatos. Now I know what you are thinking why would you take a group of special needs individuals to a place outside where anything can happen? I know the hesitation of taking an individual with special needs to a new place. I have a younger sister with special needs. My parents knew very well how a new environment could be hit or miss with my sister,b2ap3_thumbnail_vasona2.jpg
but that never discouraged them from exposing us to new places. We were constantly going to parks, zoos, National Parks, and theme parks. If it was outside we went to it.

Allowing our special individuals to walk around at Vasona allows them to look at the world a little differently. One example is the conversations we had at that event. This conversation was about life jackets and my student insisted that he was a good swimmer and didn’t need a life vest. We were walking by the paddle boats and the students commented on the orange vest peoples were wearing. I assured the student that even the best swimmers could get tiredb2ap3_thumbnail_vasona3.jpg, it would still be important to wear a life vest. Another time we spent a good deal of time discussing why bridges were important. These students read signs about why it is imp
ortant not to feed the wildlife. They identified animals, walked around, and interacted with other park goers. But most importantly they were able to create connections with other students that were not behind a screen.

I enjoy these outings as much as the students because I get a chance to learn about our students in a way that’sb2ap3_thumbnail_vasona4.jpg outside the classroom. In the classroom, I am often guiding them to the correct answer but when we go out to parks with these students they are forced to put the correct answer together on their own. The wonderful thing about the park excursions is that there doesn’t need to be a correct answer. These outings are beneficial for our students because they form bonds with their fellow students that cannot be formed in a classroom. It’s real and genuine; much like one of my students who attended the activity informed everyone that he did not like ducks. Now the entire group made sure the ducks did not b2ap3_thumbnail_vasona5.jpgget too close. Instead of teasing because this student, the group helped make him feel safe. Sometimes the classroom environment can be one of competition where the students feel they must answer the most questions or dance closest to the teacher. A day outside observing everything that nature, there was no hierarchy, no competition, no trying to impress anyone, just enjoying a day at the park.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_adobelogo.jpgCollege of Adaptive Arts recently received a generous donation from the Adobe Foundation to build out our distance learning infrastructure at College of Adaptive Arts. This means that adults with differing abilities who have medical fragilities, do not live in the immediate area of the College, or do not have regular access to means of transportation will now be able to enroll in and participate real-time in a College of Adaptive Arts class.

Additionally, with the investment in Beam robots who we learned about through Bay Area Visionary Henry Evans, we will now be able to invite guest lecturers and speakers to give lectures at the College of Adaptive Arts virtually through the robust and very engaging Beam robot. We will be able to invite visionary leaders, artists, actors, performers, musicians from around the world to give guest lectures from the convenience of their homes. This investment from the Adobe Foundation is going to open up so many doors and opportunities for accessing, cultivating, and developing abilities in a population of citizens that has been historically overlooked of their authentic and rich abilities.

We are making traction in prodding this juggernaut idea of providing a lifelong, equitable collegiate experience into full momentum. The Adobe Foundation has reinforced a vibrant and essential message that distance learning will play a fundamental role in adult education for students with differing abilities.

Next step in Moving this Mountain: Getting the College of Adaptive Arts onto a college campus to be able to operate as an independent charter school and learn to share resources and space in a college environment. This last essential piece will ensure that this model can be replicated, because all large metropolitans have college campuses that could potentially host a charter entity of providing accessible, adult education. CAA students would benefit from enjoying a collegiate experience alongside typical peers going to college. CAA would like to demonstrate that we can share resources of a college campus such as dance studios, theatres, radio stations, and be respectful, mindful, and innovative partners on a college campus.

This would also be a rich learning hub for students at these institutions in researching areas of autism, brain development, human motivation, lifelong learning, and best practices in adult education. If you have ideas on helping us land on an institution of higher education, we’d love to hear from you! DeAnna Pursai, Executive Director, deanna@collegeofadaptivearts.org

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