Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Art of Disability

“Disability is not a ‘brave struggle’ or ‘courage in the face of adversity’. Disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live.”
Neil Marcus – a poet, humorist, writer, actor, and adventurer who is “creatively endowed with disability”

This quote was shared at a presentation I attended this past summer. It immediately brought up memories of a play that has always bothered me since I first saw it when Erin was in high school - "The Boys Next Door" by Tom Griffin. The story is about four men who live together and have cognitive and developmental disabilities. It does not paint a pretty picture of living with disabilities.

At a pivotal point in the play, one of the men shares a very sad monologue. “I stand before you, a middle-aged man in an uncomfortable suit, a man whose capacity for rational thought is somewhere between a five-year-old and an oyster. (Pause) I am retarded. I am damaged. I am sick inside from so many years of confusion, utter and profound confusion. I am mystified by faucets and radios and elevators and newspapers and popular songs. I cannot always remember the names of my parents. But I will not go away. And I will not wither because the cage is too small. I am here to remind the species of the species. I am Lucien Percival Smith. And without me, without my shattered crippled brain, you will never again be frightened by what you might have become. Or indeed by what your future might make you.”

Unfortunately this description of disability is the perception of many people, not just the playwright. To counter-act this perception, we go overboard trying to show the "super stars" with disabilities. We talk about those extraordinary individuals who have overcome their deficiencies; have worked hard to become more "normal."

Neil's quote is about valuing all people with disabilities; looking at differences and not perceived deficiencies; discovering and celebrating the gifts in each of us.

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