Program highlights

by Jake Kapsner

An audience gave a juggler rave reviews for mixing bowling pins with jokes while a student project asked people to define disability by writing on a community mural.
Such visual and verbal exchanges highlighted Friday’s second annual Disability Cafe: Expressions of Ourselves. More than 100 people filled the St. Paul Student Center’s North Star Ballroom for the free public event that featured local artists and performers with sign language interpretation.
After training for eight weeks in the Institute on Disability and Leadership, University students took to the stage to play music, read poetry and showcase their creative work.
The interactive event finalized the student training meant to promote leaders on campus who have a knowledge of the disabled community, said Wendy Harbour, a full-time graduate student in education who works in Disability Services and heads the institute.
The whole idea is for people to take pride in themselves and their community, Harbour said.
“You wouldn’t walk up to someone and say, `Oh, I’m so sorry you’re a woman’ or `Oh, I’m so sorry you’re black.’ The same thing holds true for a person with a disability,” Harbour explained.
Amid displays of student projects, the audience listened and laughed as performers engaged them with questions on their surroundings. Some replied, “Support, friends, joy … free food!”
Performer and local pastor CathyAnn Beaty wove stories about dealing with depression into a spontaneous dance she called “Interplay.” Audience members then joined her to draw deep breaths and release physical tension as Beaty moved to the soothing rhythms of classical guitar.
Beaty emphasized depression as a disability and the audience responded attentively.
“I think depression is a big part of disability experience,” said Melissa McLean, who displayed photos of her 17 peers and staff from this year’s institute.
She said laughter and pride are essential to having a disability.
People told McLean not to go back to school two years ago after she had brain surgery. But McLean did return to school. She is in her last year of a master’s degree in art education.
University graduate student Carl Luepker read his poem, “Unfinished Business,” to the cafe crowd.
Luepker has dystonia, a neurological disorder which affects fine motor movements in his body. He explained how someone with a disability is faced not only with the disability itself, but with the societal perceptions of it.
“You see, many of our limitations are fabrications composed out of adaptations to society, when simply, what we all really long for is a place to belong and be part of something strong. Is that so wrong?” read Luepker’s poem.
Event organizers purchased food for the event from Schumacher’s Historic European Hotel-Restaurant and Gifts, a vendor whose owner has a learning disability.
“The whole idea of disability culture is a new idea, very 90s,” said Harbour, who is deaf. “Deaf culture we’ve known about since the 1960s, but that there’s a disability culture — that’s pretty new.”
In an age when historically oppressed groups of people are claiming and celebrating individual characteristics more and more, University students raised awareness of what disabled culture means.
“The overall message here: Experiences of disability really add a vibrant part to our humanity,” said Gene Chelberg, the assistant director of Disability Services. “What we saw here tonight was an expression and celebration of that.”