Section: Arts

Students address accessibility through artistic pursuits

Students address accessibility through artistic pursuits

by Bailey Blaker and Elana Spivack

For some students on campus, just going to Peirce Hall for soft serve or going to class in Ascension Hall is wrought with challenges. The conversation about life for students with disabilities on campus has been brought to the forefront this past week.

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) and Student Accessibility and Support Services (SASS) sponsored a celebration this week of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a piece of legislation that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace, across state and federal jurisdictions and in public spaces.

Events included a screening Monday of Temple Grandin, a film that tells the story of the namesake autism activist and a music and poetry night on Tuesday.

The concert featured performer Zayne Harshaw of Blue Spectrum, a group comprised of musicians who are all on the autism spectrum. Harshaw taught himself to play guitar at the age of 14 and was drawn to the blues genre right away. “Part of me thinks when there’s a sad thing going on, [I should play] what fits to it,” Harshaw said. “I kind of picture the keys like I’m at some kind of fancy place, where people are dressed up fancy and stuff. That’s how I picture it and it’s like a harmony.”

Erin Salva, director of SASS, said the events Tuesday night were designed to appeal to a wide variety of students.

“It’s entitled ‘The Art of Autism,’ but it’s really just a celebration of the arts in relation to disability broadly,” Salva said.

Student artist Justin Martin ’19 uses the arts to speak about his cerebral palsy (CP), a congenital disorder affecting movement, muscle tone and posture. Since the second grade, Martin has been engaged in artistic pursuits in one form or another. He won the Columbus Arts Festival Poetry Corner in 2007. He is also a stand-up comedian, an actor and a public speaker.

Martin recently gave a speech at Arizona Technology Access Program’s annual assistive technology conference about living with his disability. “The narrative about disabled people is usually prepared and packaged and told by and for able-bodied people,” Martin said. He is working hard to start a conversation on campus about this reality. “Even me going to Peirce and getting soft serve is a revolutionary act for a lot of people,” he said.

Lin Miao ’17 also has CP and has been outspoken about her experiences as a disabled person. Art has helped her think about issues surrounding disabilities.

Through the use of her laptop, Miao faces fewer challenges with using writing as a form of expression than other mediums. She writes prose stories for her own pleasure, but has experimented with performance and spoken word poetry before. “Spoken word got me thinking about what it means to have a speech impediment, exploring the way the content of the words themselves transcend these barriers,” Miao said.

Art in itself is not always so accommodating to those with disabilities. Miao spoke of how Transition Mission, a post-high school graduation program in Mount Vernon for people with disabilities, brought students to the Gund Gallery. Miao recalled that while the students were engaged with the sculptures on display, tension rose because they were surrounded by fragile materials. “I just remember all the supervisors were so nervous like, ‘Don’t touch this,’” Miao said.

Miao noted points of ableism, discrimination in favor of able-bodied people, as well. “It’s one thing to accept disabled people,” she said. “Accepting disabled behavior is another story. If I’m moving slowly and people are annoyed that I’m moving slowly, that’s still ableism. Even if they’re not having a bad opinion of me as a person, the fact that there’s this isolated behavior that annoys them, that’s still ableism.”

Art lets people communicate their experiences and help viewers develop empathy. Disabled people become more than their disabilities. They can show their strength by conveying their experiences. “It’s not something to be ashamed of,” Miao said. “You’re not admitting your weakness.”

[starbox id=”Bailey Blaker,Elana Spivack”]


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