December 1, 2020

DisAbility Project demonstrates acceptance through performance

Joan Lipkin, co-founder of the DisAbility Project and artistic director of That Uppity Theatre Company in St. Louis, said everyone has a natural curiosity about disabilities.

“(Discussing disabilities) is not easy,” Lipkin said. “And that’s one of the reasons why we think it’s so important to be at places like this (Webster University) so people understand about disabled parking, accessibility and — more importantly — societal attitudes and being kind. We don’t want to be tolerated, we want to be included.”

The DisAbility Project was performed on Thursday, Feb. 28 at the Community Music School as part of the Global Inclusion and Diversity Summit. The group is made up of people with and without disabilities. The production featured original skits, songs and a rap that highlighted the everyday struggles people with disabilities face.

The pieces performed were based on the personal experiences of people with disabilities. The members of The DisAbility Project had stories of their own that hadn’t been heard yet, Lipkin said.

“I enjoy The DisAbility Project because it has a message,” Bobby Williams, DisAbility Project performer, said. “It has a message for all people; we’re all disabled in some way.”

During the question-and-answer portion of the show, Lipkin shared memorable moments when the project has had a positive impact on someone with a disability. She shared a story about a young boy who gained confidence and inspired his classmates by revealing that he had a talent for rapping. The DisAbility Project was performing at the Ethical Society in conjunction with the St. Louis Art Museum and they asked everyone to answer the question, “I am a piece of art because…” The boy stood up and proudly explained, “I am a piece of art because I can rap,” Lipkin said it was clear that the boy had cognitive disabilities. He was then welcomed on stage to rap for the audience.

Lipkin then asked the audience, “How many of you have ever broken an arm or a leg? You were temporarily disabled and it was quite a telling experience, wasn’t it?”

Lipkin and the late occupational therapist Fran Cohen created the DisAbility Project through That Uppity Theatre Company 23 years ago. [pullquote]“It became really clear to me that I didn’t see people with disabilities,” Lipkin said. “I didn’t see them socially, I didn’t see them at the theater. That became a challenge for me as both a social activist and a theater artist.” [/pullquote]

Lipkin said she and Cohen formed the DisAbility Project because they were concerned about the populations that were going unnoticed by society — including those with disabilities.

“It became really clear to me that I didn’t see people with disabilities,” Lipkin said. “I didn’t see them socially, I didn’t see them at the theater. That became a challenge for me as both a social activist and a theater artist.”

Lipkin said she likes to consider the members of the project to be “theatrical ambassadors,” especially when they perform at schools. Lipkin also said they inspire many groups of people.

“It’s almost as if we can see the light bulbs going off in terms of people understanding that those with disabilities have rights, too,” Lipkin said. “(The DisAbility Project) puts a face on disability.”

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