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We Are X-men
I want to talk about disability. What is disability and what does it mean to have one?
Not so many years ago, it was discovered that my feet sustained fractures, several in each one. They weren’t healing, so I was sent to a wheel chair. For one month, I went out only for doctor appointments. I didn’t consider myself disabled, just lonely.
My doctor must have sensed this because he prescribed CRO boots, a kind of cement shoe that held my feet in one position and alleviated any pressure from walking. Each weighed about 5, maybe 8 lbs. and, because I couldn’t bend my feet, I walked like a penguin. It was hard to keep my balance, so I had to get a cane. It was hard to walk up and down curbs. We had to move from our upstairs apartment to one downstairs. It was hard to reach the bottom row of the bulk items in the supermarket. I learned to ask for help. I thought that was what it meant to be disabled.
Flash forward a few years. I no longer wear the CRO boots and I exchanged my blue walking cane for a white one. After I graduated from the White Cane Academy, aka, mobility training, I wanted to take the bus somewhere. I got my $2 ready but the driver said it was only $1. I didn’t remember any spare the air day holiday so I thought maybe it was my lucky day or the fare machine was broken. I took the bus a few days later with the same driver and again, I only had to pay $1. The third time, I asked why. I knew what was coming, something that I didn’t think of the other two times, but I wanted him to say it: “Because you are disabled.”
I really didn’t feel disabled until he said those words. I was able to get around without assistance. I was able to attend to my shopping needs unaided. My questions persisted. What about me was disabled?
Moving forward to the Abilities Expo. My table-mate left to take a small break but left his beautiful paintings of sun flowers out for people to admire and possibly buy. And one couple did stop at our table to admire them. I started negotiations with “they are beautiful, aren’t they?” Their response: “ what is his disability?”
I was taken so far aback it felt like I needed a roadmap to return to the Expo. I wanted to say “we re at the ABILITIES Expo, right?” But what I did say was “whatever you project unto him.” They didn’t get it. I explained that I couldn’t see, couldn’t sew, I’m horrible at math, but I could bake a mean chocolate chip cookie and take a look at my photography. Am I disabled? They walked away, saying nothing but having a lot to think about, I hope.
So, circling back to my original question, what is disability? I have no answer. I look around at CAA’s student body and I see skilled artists, talented dancers and actors, and students making PhD-level observations about a poem.
At the 2016 Graduation Ceremony, Jonathan Feit compared us to the X-men, a comic and movie in which Professor Charles Francis Xavier sought young people, who were different because of their unique powers, and offered them a place to live and study and learn about their powers in a safe zone.
Do we of CAA have powers? Our students are kind and loving to everyone they meet, not just certain people. They understand right from wrong and they help each other rise. They have stood before all the faces of inequality and stood tall and defied every one of them. We even have our own version of Prof Xavier, two in fact, in Pam and DeAnna, who created a place for our students to learn and work hard to show people that maybe there is no such thing as disability. What I do know is that when I put on my dark glasses, I may be invisible, but I’m also invincible.