What does it mean to have a “disability identity”? Put simply, it means to have a disability as part of who you are. Usually, when able-bodied people think of the word disability, it means only what a person “can’t do”. This is what we’re trying to change. We wish disability to be associated with a full life experience regardless of what a person “can’t do.” If I were to remove my disability, I would no longer be me. I can’t speak for everyone’s experience, but it seems to me the more you accept yourself, the more you can challenge your limits. We all want to be healthy and active as much as we can, but this means not limiting yourself.
The medical model of disability can be described as a: “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.” But, individuals with disabilities don’t have to have such limits define them. When we as artists look at disability as experience, an art as a representation of experience, then it becomes the basis for an art movement. Art movements have historically represented thoughts and feelings shared among a group. A disability identity would have to be part of these feelings. And it doesn’t matter if they’re good or bad. Only that we live our truths and express our artistic nature.
The voice that my art would amplify through my work would be disability as a lived experience. Art movements are in effect commentaries on their time and place, as a given style develops. These commentaries are not only of events in history, but emotions and personal experiences within them as an artist, provided a common system of values. It would be my hope to show my own experiences and commentaries where the values are those provided by disability identity.
It is through identity that I begin to express my values, feelings and my good or bad experiences. My work is not to judge the pros and cons of disability culture. I am not that “serious”. Viewed from pros and cons, disability culture becomes a hindrance and resignation to one’s limits; an enfeebling philosophy shy of life’s rich potential. I view life as an artist does: rich in both comedy and tragedy. Rather than as a pro or con, a culture of disability is based on everything a person is capable of becoming both in spite of disabilities and because of them. This is the spirit in which we hope to discuss disability identity.