Alternative Perspectives: Special Needs Arts Programs

special needs class

Photography is an art form that is accessible to individuals of all ages and abilities. CEPA is honored to partner with some of the best organizations in Buffalo to bring arts education to people with special needs.

Participants study and practice a variety of photographic processes, including:

  • Black-and-white film photography
  • Digital photography
  • Darkroom printing techniques
  • Digital graphic design
  • Creative writing . . . and more

Due to COVID-19, Big Orbit Project Space is temporarily closed to the public.
As of August 8, 2020, CEPA Gallery (including the FLUX Gallery, the darkroom, and the digital photo lab) has reopened with restrictions.

In order to continue to serve our members and the public while adhering to social distancing and other safety guidelines during these unprecedented times, all other activities are currently online only.

Past CEPA Special Needs Art Programs

Together, we can put together a customized program that suits the special needs of your students and your budget. Here are some of the art programs we have done in the past.

Autism Services
Autism Services - Special Needs Arts Programs - Arts Education - CEPA Gallery - Buffalo NY

Autism Services

The Art of Photography

CEPA works with Autism Services, Inc. to develop classes that empower people by tapping into their natural artistic abilities.

During a four-week program, students from Autism Services visit CEPA to learn about the art of photography. After looking at images and discussing the elements of art, they use digital cameras to explore their environment with those elements in mind. Once their photographs are taken, they learn basic graphic design techniques in our digital photo lab to creatively manipulate their images.

Students also get an introduction to our darkroom with photograms. By placing objects onto photographic paper, exposing them to light, and then using photo chemistry, the print develops to magically reveal the image!

About Autism Services, Inc.

From humble beginnings 30 years ago which began with a 12-month education program, Autism Services has grown into an agency with three locations, offering a plethora of educational and quality-of-life programs.

Once students graduate, they make a seamless transition to adult programs where they continue to learn such basics as self-care, employment, and community integration—the ultimate goal of the organization.

The programs at Autism Services are not designed to cure autism, but to help people with autism learn to function in a society that was never tailored to their needs. They approach autism as a culture that has much to contribute. With this at the heart of their philosophy, they are a platform for our artists, writers, poets and musical performers to express themselves to their communities.

To learn more, visit Autism Services at

Adults with Disability Services
Adults with Disability Services - Special Needs Arts Programs - Arts Education - CEPA Gallery - Buffalo NY

Adults with Disability Services

Architecture Exposed

In partnership with Starlight Studio & Art Gallery and Preservation Buffalo Niagara, this program helps adults with disability explore the art of photography by connecting with Buffalo’s rich architectural heritage.

Cameras in hand, participants document prominent local historic buildings such as Buffalo City Hall, St. Antonio’s Church, Central Terminal, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House, and the historic grain elevators, as well as more obscure structures like the abandoned factories, warehouses, hotels and pubs in the First Ward, all evocatively testifying to the days of civic and industrial prosperity.

This experience for adults with disability results in a body of pictures that helps the participants learn about photography while changing their relationship with their surroundings, adding a sense of belonging and pride for Buffalo’s past and present.

About Starlight Studio & Art Gallery

A vibrant art studio and gallery located in downtown Buffalo, Starlight was created by Learning Disabilities Association of Western New York to support adults with disability in their artistic development.

Along with exhibitions by the Starlight artists, our public gallery is available to the community for other exhibitions.

To learn more, visit

About Learning Disabilities Association of WNY

Originally established in 1965 as a support group for parents of children with suspected learning disabilities, the Learning Disabilities Association grew from its original 9 members to a Western New York chapter of nearly 500 by 1970.

Today, LDA of WNY serves offers a full range of support services to over 1200 individuals in eight counties annually, and remains unique in its service to the learning disabled population.

To learn more, visit

People Inc. Arts Experience
special needs class

People Inc. Arts Experience

CEPA is so happy to partner with The Arts Experience at People Inc.

Participants visit CEPA and learn all about photography, both traditional black & white darkroom and digital photography. For the last few years, our teaching artist Michelle Tomaino, a former Arts Experience participant, has taught her peers all she has learned at CEPA over the years. Michelle especially loves to teach Photoshop. Students create portraits using a green screen, putting themselves in creative scenarios.

People Inc. Arts Experience

The Arts Experience is a fine arts day habilitation program offering an array of classes from music, drama, visual art and dance to creative writing and dance aerobics. Classes are instructed by qualified artists and educators. No prior experience is needed.

Visit People Inc. to find out more.

Michelle Tomaino Teaching Artist


Special Needs Teaching Artist

Michelle Tomaino is an artist, a photographer and enjoys mixed media, creative writing and Photoshop. Michelle started an internship at CEPA in September 2014 through the Western New York Employment Training Program and became an official teaching artist for our youth program as well as our special needs classes.

“I had a wonderful experience teaching a group from People Inc.’s Arts Experience. We had so much fun and laughter. They learned Photoshop, green screen and how to do their profile. We took them around the building so they could photograph the elements of photography and we also did photograms in the darkroom. We really enjoyed seeing their faces after a completed project. It is such an honor to teach them photography.”

Design Your CEPA Special Needs Art Program

Special Needs Arts Programs - Arts Education - CEPA Gallery - Buffalo NY

Bring your group to CEPA for a unique learning experience.

To discuss a customized special needs art program that suits the special needs of your students and your budget, contact Nate Ely, our Education Director: