Myriad Acts of Change

In the years following I viewed diverse video projects, enjoyed live performing artists, studied with integrated dance companies and read about various artist/activist/advocates who were challenging the boundaries of imagination, artistic skill and cultural stereotypes by inciting exciting conversations and creative discourse.

And things have changed. These days, I am no longer surprised when I see a regular character who is a wheelchair user on a major US network’s popular prime-time television show. The most notable change I’ve observed is that there seem to be fewer actors without disabilities playing characters with disabilities, and a few more performers with disabilities playing both characters with disabilities and roles that are not disability specific. The summer 2016 issue of Equity News is covered with a photo montage of diverse actors, some with visible disabilities, populating both front and back covers, highlighting the story “Change the Stage.” This crucial shift in point of view is one that the mass media and the entertainment industry need to understand, embrace and practice regarding the representation of people with disabilities in any media: “Nothing about us without us.” Our voices need to be authentically included in the larger cultural conversations taking place in all the creative industries in this country.

Passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act contributed to this shift in the cultural conversation – it is one of the big things that has propelled community change. A myriad of smaller acts by Americans (and others) with disabilities compelled this much-needed change:

Access Theater * Axis Dance * Joseph Baird * Josh Blue * Kathy Buckley * Chuck Close * Kevin Connelly * Dancing Wheels * Full Radius Dance * Marquetta Johnson * Light Motion * Kitty Lund * Neil Marcus * Anthony Milella * Joy Mincey-Powell * Leslie Orr * David Roche * Nabil Shaban * Alan Shain * Brian Shaughnessy * Teal Sherer * Judith Smith * Cheryl Marie Wade * Wry Crips …

This list is literally the teeniest tip of an iceberg, and it does not include very many visual artists nor a significant representation of international artists. Yet their creative endeavors consistently inspire our defiance of feeling defeated by the ill-informed assumptions made about those of us labeled “disabled.” They motivate our resistance to relinquishing our civil right (as citizens) to pursue personal dreams of professional artistry and creative living. These are the many, simple, mundane, daily acts of advocacy, activism and artistry that mold each of us into individual agents of creative change.

Jaehn Clare, MA, (pronounced “Jane”) currently serves as the executive director for VSA arts of Georgia, Inc.