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Posted by on in News

When I’m out in the community and I tell people we run a College of the Arts for adults with special needs, a common response that I get is, “So you are training them for a vocation in the arts?” Certainly a valid question, and I find it an interesting challenge to convey the message that we are truly about learning for the sake of learning.  Lifelong education. Exploring and furthering your skills and interests with other like-minded peers who have similar interests. 

I have a sister with a disability, and it was truly interesting to watch enter into the world of adulthood.  When I believe she was in that post-secondary time right after high school, she had a job coach for the summer, and she was so very happy cleaning the desks of the local high schools to get ready for the next year.  Her coach was with her, and she seemed to be having a blast.  I was so happy for her to have an engaged experience and to be helping in the community.

I soon learned that the job coach was cut due to budget cuts.  I moved away to attend my own college, and I sensed the distress and despair of becoming an adult without the needed supports to continue to be a viable, happy, and productive citizen.  It’s been highly distressing to observe as a sister.

Fast forward 20 years and myself and my business partner, Pamela Lindsay, have founded an Innovative College of the Arts for Students with Disabilities.  It’s amazing; joyful; refreshing.  I simply and truly love it.  College of Adaptive Arts has 8 Schools of Instruction in the Arts, Health & Wellness.  Adults simply sign up for the classes that they are interested in taking.  Each class is one hour long. Learn, Create, Rinse, and Repeat. 

I often revisit the word training in my mind.  I’ve seen adults with disabilities trained to pick up trash, clean tables, shred papers.  From my perspective, it seems that ‘typical folks’ on a whole can do these jobs better than a person with a disability.  However, when you give a person with a disability a microphone and a stage, they have the ability to transform the audience’s experience in a way that I have rarely witnessed with ‘typical’ performers.  People often have told me that they ‘feel more alive’ after watching a College of Adaptive Arts performing troupe.

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A Mountain Mover

By Sharon Lea

I want to be a mountain mover
mountains hold people back
create walls of sadness

that hide so much truth and beauty 

I want to push and kick away boulders

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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?

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by Allison Kennedy

CAA (College of adaptive arts) is one of a kind we offer so many more accommodations that any other place will. Teachers at CAA remind you of things if you're one to forget dance routines or lines for a school play.

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Our dance floor is not all we have. There's student government, public speaking, and acting classes and a yearly prom and a yearly movie festival. We have yearly play productions in the summer. Our dance classes have weekly performances where the dance teachers remind us of the routines right then and there in case we forget what routines to do in our performances. In our acting classes our teachers in the drama department remind us of our lines when we do our yearly plays.

There's no finals or midterms at our school!!!!!!!!!

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Disability Brings Us Together

As we come upon election time I have multiple opportunities throughout the day to hear what sets us apart as different represented groups. During these turbulent times, I cherish and relish our community of artists, contributors, leaders, survivors even more because of what brings us all together: Disability, or differing ability as we say at the College of Adaptive Arts.

My personal experience in the world of disability began when I was one year old when my sister was born with Down syndrome. I believe my family was thrust into a different realm or paradigm trying to meet her needs. It’s the only world I’ve ever known, and I love and adore the path I walk each day and the most awesome people I have encountered.

My network of friends, family, supporters, and contributors include leaders on the far right who are ultra-conservative to citizens on the far left who would be considered generously liberal. I have friends and colleagues who are very religious, and others in my close networks who are not religious at all. I cross paths each day with persons of very high independent wealth and persons who struggle for enough money to manage transportation, rent, & food. I have had the privilege of working with the most awesome people from all over the world, including China, Mexico, Israel, Japan, Venezuela, Iran, Argentina, Serbia, France, Italy & India. I have dear friends who are gay, straight, and transgender.

b2ap3_thumbnail_performance2.jpgThe most beautiful part of my network is that I love and cherish them all very dearly, primarily because our underlying bond is that we are and/or love someone very much who happens to have a disability. I sincerely believe that Disability brings out the best in us as human beings. For me, the highest determining factor to be in my network is: Will you help me support my loved one in need, and can I be a support to you to help you with your loved one? I know parents everyday who work the entire day to keep their child alive. I am humbled and overwhelmed by the daily obstacles that families face to support their loved ones, and it leaves me so inspired to see how these families live with integrity, grace, and humanity.

It seems so easy and effortless to me to befriend someone of a different race, economic group, political party when I know that person sincerely loves and believes in my loved one. I do the same for all of the awesome people I meet with disabilities who are in a different ‘group’ than myself. It doesn’t matter; what matters is Love, and love comes so easily through the bond of ‘Disability.’ That gives me such hope in humanity. Thank you, Angel, and to all of the amazing individuals I have met with disabilities, for allowing me to be a better person and giving me the privilege of meeting the best network of friends and supporters in the world.

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