By Ahmed V. Ortiz
Disability, Veronica Hicks will remind, isn’t always visible.
Such is the case for the Sacramento State assistant professor of Art Education, who was honored as the California Art Education Association (CAEA) Special Needs Art Educator of the Year during its annual conference Nov. 4-7. She also became the state’s nominee for the national award, which will be announced in March.
Hicks has an auditory processing disorder. APDs can cause difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments, following directions and drawing distinctions between similar-sounding speech sounds, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. That can sometimes result in Hicks “missing” what people say or, worse, seem as if she’s simply not listening.
“Sometimes I warn people ahead of time,” she said, “especially students.”
Hicks’ passion for students is palpable. She said the honor is especially meaningful to her because students nominated her.
“To me, that means the world,” she said. “I’m also excited to be recognized for my work in the state of California because I want the best for my students at Sac State. I value their journey to becoming future teachers and also advocates for the rights of persons with disabilities.”
Hicks was honored for her work in helping to connect preservice art teachers – those going through the period of guided, supervised teaching – to the disability community, as well as disability advocates in the Sacramento area. She said recognition of that aspect of her job is paramount to changing the perception that teachers’ jobs begin and end in the classroom.
“I think this award recognizes that teachers are multifaceted and they are community members too,” she said.
Central to her work is preparing students as preservice art teachers for careers, Hicks said, and also forging partnerships with community members and bringing them into the classroom.
She described one of her courses, Art for Exceptional Children, as an “art-ed special-ed course” that was taught at the University about 10 years ago but became dormant because of a dearth of faculty to teach it. When Hicks arrived at Sac State for the Fall 2019 semester, she got to update the course and think deeply about how she wants to change it in the coming years.
Hicks said she wants eventually to share that updated curriculum with other CSUs so that the course can be taught at other campuses.
Students in the class were able to meet Ms. Wheelchair California 2019 and Sac State alumna Angela Piazza, as well as engage at community centers with adult artists with disabilities.
Hicks’ advocacy for the rights of individuals whose voices often are muted extends beyond people with disabilities. She worked with the CAEA board to create a diversity and inclusion commission to champion the rights of people who identify as BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color) and LGBTQ as well. She said it all ties in with ensuring that a variety of peoples’ needs are met in the classroom, and that art classes can be equitable spaces for teachers and learners.
“It just takes a little effort to make sure everyone has a playing field where we can all succeed,” she said.