Continuing the conversations DIS/PLAY began


DIS/PLAY Exhibition, photo by Timothy Andrew Photography

Following DIS/PLAY, there has been a great deal of press documenting the talented work of the featured artists, the incredible curation of Fran Osborne, and of SOMArts rising to meet the needs of artists and visitors with disabilities alike. Here is a small sample of the responses to the show:

Nirmala Nataraj, “SOMArts show ‘Dis/Play’ combats ‘tired notions of disability’” (SFGate, March 2015)

Sarah Elizabeth Adler, “DIS/PLAY exhibition brings accessibility to art world, sheds light on ableism” (The Daily Californian, April 2015)

Laura Jaye Cramer, “DIS/PLAY: Disabling Stereotypes” (SFWeekly, April 2015)

Nicole Hall, Jennifer Villatore, Eric Crowell, & Fran Osborne, “DIS/PLAY artists featured on KPOO’s ‘Let Me Touch Your Mind’


DIS/PLAY Closing Reception, photo by Elena Gross

Though the show concluded this month, a larger conversation about disability, access, and visibility is still taking place nationally. In artistic communities, as well as in areas of public transportation, health, and police violence, acknowledging and addressing the needs of communities and individuals needs to be of greater priority. Here is a list of articles, blog posts, and op-eds to help start that conversation:

1. Rioriri, “The Invisible Crutch,” She Dances of the Sand, April 2009
1.5 Phyllis M. May-Muchunda, “Exploring the Invisible Knapsack of Able-Bodied Privilege,” University of Wisconsin, date unknown

These two links have been paired together as they both give good definitions of what things folks should be aware of/mindful of with regards to disability. They are both modeled after Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” which brought attention to the “unearned assets” of white privilege and the many things white folks take for granted. In this same way, both the linked articles are asking readers to question certain assumptions made and privileges had in navigating the world as an able-bodied or non-disabled person. Neither is meant to be comprehensive or to speak for all disabled persons or all experiences (no article or blog post can do that as no two people/experiences are ever totally alike), but they are good primers for rethinking and questioning certain social norms.

2. Katherine Hawkins, “The new breed of ‘vloggers’ here to challenge people,” BBC News, February 2015

This article focuses on young people who use YouTube as a way to represent themselves, as people living with disabilities, to wider cultural audiences. Vlogging offers a way to both dispel negative stigmas and to connect from across the country or across the world in a variety of creative ways including make-up tutorials, sports, and disability rights activism.


Illustration by Ben Claassen for Washington Post Express

3. Vicky Hallett, “Saving seats: Metro’s new ads raise awareness of invisible disabilities,” Washington Post, January 2015

Metro’s new campaign (the first to address the issue since 2009) is a reminder that these seats are exclusively for people who need them, and should be kept empty to allow people with disabilities to take advantage of them without being forced into uncomfortable confrontations.”

4. Andrew Zitek, “People with Disabilities vs. Inspirational,” Medium, December 2014

“In terms of my brother, I look at the praise he receives for activities that are all too often ordinary things and I notice a pattern that could be interpreted as patronization. Right now, it seems as if people think that irrespective of context, the word inspirational is a compliment. Though I do give these people credit for their attempt to be supportive, if it were directed toward me, I’d probably think, “You’re shocked that I did a fairly unimpressive thing. What does that say about how you see me?” Things like this hint at an expectation that the general population might hold about it not being possible for people with disabilities to become independent, self-actualized adults.”

5. David M. Perry and Lawrence Carter-Long, “How Misunderstanding Disability Leads to Police Violence,” The Atlantic, May 2014

This article addresses the current political and justice debate around better police training for engaging with potential suspects (and victims) with disabilities.

The recent hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee is an important first sentence in an ongoing dialogue about how law enforcement officials relate to people with psychiatric, developmental, and physical disabilities. Non-compliance isn’t automatically criminal, and if more police understood that, it could minimize the violence.”

6. Syracuse University Disability Cultural Center, “An Introductory Guide to Disability Language and Empowerment,” 2012

“People-first” or “person-first” language is a way of describing disability that involves putting the word “person” or “people” before the word “disability” or the name of a disability, rather than placing the disability first and using it as an adjective.  Some examples of people-first language might include saying “person with a disability,” “woman with cerebral palsy,” and “man with an intellectual disability.”  The purpose of people-first language is to promote the idea that someone’s disability label is just a disability label—not the defining characteristic of the entire individual.  Many guides on disability language and etiquette may likely emphasize using person-first language, except, perhaps, when discussing certain disability cultural groups that explicitly describe themselves with disability-first language.” 

The selection of these articles are not meant to speak for everyone’s experience but to show the range and breadth of information out there to start really critically examining the ways in which we can all collectively make spaces more safe and accessible.

About the Author:
Elena Gross is a CCA Extern for SOMArts Cultural Center and a graduate student in the Visual & Critical Studies program at California College of the Arts.