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Inclusive Arts Festival invited children and adults with disabilities along with their families to participate in interactive workshops.

By Jana Cunningham

On Saturday, May 30 the Department of Special Education at the University of Utah invited children and adults with disabilities along with their families and friends to join them for the Utah Inclusive Arts Festival at the Tanner Dance center.Inclusive Arts

A collaboration between with the Departments of Special Education, Modern Dance and Music, provided those with and without disabilities an opportunity to engage in interactive workshops involving music, dance and theatre. More than 100 participants of all ages teamed up to create stories that combined different elements of artistic expression.

Each group was divided based on ages from 3–53 and at the end of the day everyone performed and showcased what they learned. Some did a whole performance while others did vignettes of each of the lessons. Rob O’Neill, chair of special education, led a storytelling group, in which the participants used their imaginations and creativity to tell the folktale of “Anansi the Spider” through dialogue, dance and song.

“This and other similar events through the Department of Special Education provide opportunities for children and families to engage in a creative process that also provides learning elements for all involved,” said O’Neill. “This is why the inclusive aspect is so important.”

Inclusive Arts 2The festival enhances to the mission of the department, which is to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities and their families by developing and disseminating essential skills, knowledge and values through research, teaching and service.

“The best part of the festival was seeing people of all ages and abilities working together to create something beautiful,” said Ben Tillotson, U graduate and organizer of the event. “It was wonderful to see everyone supporting one another in an environment where everyone felt safe to be themselves. We hope to make the event even better and stronger in the future.”

Special education means specially designed instruction to ensure a free and appropriate education for students regardless of the extent or type of their disability. The Department of Special Education prepares teacher candidates and general education teacher candidates to work with students with disabilities in the areas of mild, moderate and severe disabilities, early childhood special education, vision impairments and students who are deaf and hard of hearing.


Jana Cunningham is a communications specialist at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email her at