Program Profile

Feature Issue on Disability Rights, Disability Justice

Mapping Voices, Building Bridges
A Journey of Inclusivity and Advocacy


Yunkyung Lee is a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in art therapy and counseling at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Illinois.

Anna Seo is a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in art therapy and counseling at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Illinois.

Brooke Willour is a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in art therapy and counseling at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Illinois.

An image of a museum entrance with a statue of a lion in front of the building.

By Yunkyung Lee

In the spring of 2023, alongside my dedicated team—comprised of Anna, Brooke, and myself—we collaborated with T.J. Gordon on the Disability Narrative Mapping Project. This innovative initiative aimed to empower the disability community by providing a platform for their voices to be heard. My background as an art and art history major, a theme park and scene designer in South Korea, a mother of a young man with autism, a student art therapist, and a human services interpreter deeply informed my journey with this project. Fueled by the strength and resilience of the disability community, I embarked on a profoundly personal exploration.

At the heart of our project was the story map—an interactive map featuring portraits and personal statements from diverse voices across Chicago. This endeavor sought to bridge communities, foster self-advocacy, and raise awareness of the unique challenges faced by individuals with disabilities. Through introspective reflections, I realized I had been undervaluing the independence and autonomy of the disability community, limiting my understanding of self advocacy. Exploring the history of the disability movement prompted me to situate our project within its historical context and consider its relationship with the community's system of beliefs.

The project, as a space for individuals to openly share their problems and needs, became a powerful catalyst for a dynamic new movement. It harnessed the collective energy and voices of a group with a shared identity. Our unveiling party, evaluated in a follow-up meeting with T.J., received positive feedback. It emphasized the importance of continuing to amplify the voices of the disability community through the story map. This initiative goes beyond mapping stories; it lays the foundation for a more inclusive and understanding society, and champions the principles of art, self-advocacy, and community building.

Empowering Voices Art and Advocacy in Disability Practice

By Anna Seo

I worked as an art therapist in South Korea and had limited experience working with individuals with disabilities. I was curious about the needs and boundaries of those experiencing disabilities and what healing meant to them, but I was unsure where to begin. This changed when I enrolled in Prof. Sandie Yi's class, Community Practice and Helping Relationships, where I learned about disability history and models of disability. The Disability Rights Movement in the United States has been advocating for a more inclusive and accessible society through policy changes and the establishment of federal rights. The history of the Self-Advocacy Movement is a testament to the resilience and determination of individuals with disabilities who are fighting against discrimination, exclusion, and ableism. I discovered that art therapy could extend beyond the conventional boundaries of a counseling room to encompass broader community and societal contexts. The subsequent project for individuals with disabilities became a practical and experiential journey to apply these concepts.

Facilitating the unveiling party of the Disabled I AM Story Map project, in collaboration with our group's community reader T.J., was a particularly meaningful experience for me. T.J. shared his authentic experiences of living with a disability, his journey to diagnosis, and his future aspirations. Hearing about his experiences and emotions allowed me to perceive him as an individual beyond just medical diagnoses, race, and job title. It was an enlightening experience to bring our identities together. T.J. is Black, autistic, a father, and an activist. I am Asian, a mother, and an art therapist. We developed practical ways to implement self-advocacy in disability. Facilitating communication in both physical and virtual spaces provided comfort and empowerment to many community members who felt disconnected due to COVID-19. The power of sharing personal narratives and experiences in community helps break down ableism, stereotypes, and misconceptions. Art is a tool that empowers and connects individuals across different genders, races, sexual orientations, disabilities, and religions. Art activities we performed across these differences alleviated awkwardness, encouraged dialogue, and enhanced self-expression.

Collaborating with T.J. in the unveiling party for the project was a significant experience that deepened my understanding of disability and fostered exchange and self-expression among people from diverse backgrounds. It was also a crucial journey in witnessing the role of art in challenging stereotypes and misconceptions about disability, and in connecting and empowering members of the community.

Exploring Self Advocacy in Disability Culture

By Brooke Willour

As someone who newly identifies with having a disability, I am interested in self advocacy within the disability community, both for myself and for my future career as an art therapist.

This project offered me the opportunity to curate my own ideas and direct the project in a way that felt meaningful to me. I developed a personal connection and interest in self advocacy that carried me through the project and helped me engage with it in a more intimate way. Through my research, I learned about the long history of the lives of people with disabilities being controlled and determined by those who are not disabled. Ethically, a support person or collaborator must emphasize communication that minimizes power differentials and works with others’ access needs. It is crucial that community knowledge, not just academic knowledge, is respected, valued, and made accessible to others, which is something that T.J. emphasized in our discussions about our role in this effort.