On 3 June 2014, I walked into the conference room of the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley in Troy to teach a ‘personal photojournalism course’ — written essays with related photographs. The focus: write about how your disability affects your life.
I readied the conference room-cum-classroom for the next six weeks: cameras, notebooks, and pens were set at each seat. The participants — Barbara, Shameka, Robbie, Carolyn, Walter, Kimberly, Denise, and Janet, ranging in age from eighteen to sixty-five, arrived with a variety of disabilities: speech and learning, spina bifida, polio, scoliosis, epilepsy, mild retardation, severe ADD, and muscular dystrophy. Some never held a camera or spent time writing; others did a lot of one or the other.
I thought the process I developed to achieve our goal was easy. I was wrong. It is neither simple, nor painless, to walk into past and present wounds, and then tell the world. An action with potential to re-shape minds and hearts? That is heroic.
For six weeks we talked, took pictures, and wrote themes inching towards the final essay. We laughed and we cried: probably an equal amount of both, though the need for Kleenex tissue boxes increased as the weeks rolled on. I could write a thousand words, and more, about injustice, humiliation, biases, disregard, ignorance, and impoverished awareness concerning consumers with disabilities.
I fell in love with eight people. Normally I would use an adjective and describe them as “exceptional.” I dare not! They would wag their fingers at me, saying, “We are normal: not anything more; certainly not anything less.” Yet, I saw and felt their wounds and witnessed bravery. These are my heroes. I asked them to reach for the stars. And they did.
Robbie, full of desire to free himself from harsh labels,
writes an indictment of the system that creates them.
Denise, ever the activist, speaks
for justice while decrying injustice.
Carolyn, filled with beauty and magnanimity,
writes through constant pain for the love of writing.
Walter, brilliant with a camera, shows us beauty-in-precision
with a touch of whimsy.
Janet, with a wink-and-a-smile,
demonstrates what perseverance accomplishes.
Shameka, stoic yet strong for everyone,
tells us why love is important.
Kimberly exemplifies truth-well-told,
and what ‘walking-the-walk’ means.
Barbara, filled with equanimity and compassion,
writes her story with warmth and humor
peppered with stark realities.
The Mockingbird Quote
Why is it a sin to kill a Mockingbird? In Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, we learn that the Mockingbird lives solely to sing, never harming a crop, flower, or tree. It symbolizes two vital characters, both disabled: Boo Radley and Tom Robinson. Each gentle, neither caused harm, both were unfairly and unmercifully discriminated against. Ignorance and resistance to understanding the unfamiliar prevailed.
SEE THROUGH OUR EYES. HEAR OUR HEARTS.
On 21 October 2014, from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m., The Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley will host the Opening Exhibition of the photographs and writings of the participants in this groundbreaking program. Come and meet the artists … and truly see through their eyes and hear their hearts. I guarantee it will be a life-changing experience.
This past July, “independent living” for consumers with disabilities
moved from being a mere program into an “administration.”
THE INDEPENDENT LIVING ADMINISTRATION was
established on 22 July 2014 when President Barack Obama
signed the Workforce Innovation
and Opportunity Act into law.
It is time for me to stop and for you to read Our Stories.