Play confronts disability issues

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Teresa A. Sewell

Destiny Dash, senior in LAS, has been on an emotional journey since her first semester here at the University. A stranger took one glance at her physical appearance and told her that she must live a difficult life before he even held a conversation with her. Astonished at the assumption, Dash decided it was her duty to show the world an honest reflection of the lives of disabled people, which does consists of some obstacles but, more importantly, managing to overcome them.

Dash co-directed Just Livin’, a play that she describes as “realistic theater” that portrayed the real life experiences of disabled people, which debuted Sunday at the Armory Free Theater at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. In monologues, the actors – who are all disabled – told the difficulties and the joys of living with a disability to show that a disability is merely an aspect of their lives that neither confines them nor makes them less of a person.

Dash, who has “borderline” cerebral palsy (capable of walking but sometimes needing help in maintaining balance), said she placed an ad in a local newspaper and recruited people who wanted to tell their experience of being disabled. To those who responded, Dash asked them to write a personal account of a time when their disability created negativity in their life and a time when it created something positive.

She said it was important to make the script show that having a disability is the same as being a regular person.

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to prove myself (as normal),” Dash said.

Dash said she hopes that this play, as well as several other efforts, will eventually eliminate this need.

Carol Green, a mentally disabled member of the cast, explained the frustrations that she had with having to prove her capability to physically take care of herself. She described how she had to fight in court to become independent from her mother because her mother did not feel that she was fit to live by herself.

Green admits that she has difficulty doing simple tasks like grocery shopping. She said she usually holds up the line because sometimes it takes her longer to do things. But she said her obstacles are no different from anyone else’s, and it is unfair to label her as incompetent.

Green said she eventually won her case and loves her independence.

“I now feel good that I could do things by myself,” Green said.

Joshua George, junior in communications, spoke about his experience of being a paraplegic and how some people said people have a hard time realizing that disabled people can function normally. He said people often ask if they could do simple things like open the door, fill a glass or carry luggage for him, assuming that he is not capable of doing it.

“People don’t understand how little help we actually need,” said George, who has won two bronze sprint medals in the Paralympics – the second largest sporting event, aside from the Olympics, held for athletes with disabilities.

When George was competing in the 2004 Paralympics in Greece, he said people constantly asked to take pictures with him. George said he loved the experience, because others acknowledged his medal and saw the athlete – not a disabled person.

“It was refreshing,” George said, smiling.

George said he refuses to accept the words “disability” and “handicap” because they have negative connotations to them. He said he is just a person in a wheelchair and is able to perform any task he wants.

Chris Harrison, who is mentally disabled, explained in his monologue how he was denied several jobs – even from the military – because he was taking behavioral medication for his disability. He said the experiences made him feel hopeless because he wanted to find a way to pay for college and no doors were opening for him because of something he cannot control.

But Harrison said that, without his disability, he would have never met his fianc‚e. After he was hired by a company that specialized in employing people with developmental disabilities, he met the woman he fell in love with.

University Professor Leon Dash, Destiny Dash’s father, said he applauds the actors for their performance and hopes that people will see the play as one of the many capabilities that disabled people have. He said the actors’ disabilities may limit them from certain things, but it doesn’t stop them from succeeding as individuals.

“I don’t see the disability … it’s irrelevant,” said Brian Hagy, director of the prompting theater of the developmental services center and co-director of the play. He said the play shows that it is possible for anyone to succeed in their passions so long as they have the chance to pursue them.

Even though Hagy stood in the background and whispered to most of the actors their lines, he said all of them “rose to the occasion” and performed remarkably. He said most of the participants have weak memorization skills as apart of their illness, so the fact that they could recite most of their lines further proved the point.

Destiny Dash said she hopes to “refine people’s perception about negative stereotypes that occur about people with disabilities,” such as they sit in isolation and are incapable of having a normal life.

George said he hopes people will learn to see from the play that they should not look at the accomplishments of disabled people as acts of courage but consider them as the product of hard work by ordinary people.

“Treat us the same as other people,” George said. “That’s all we are looking for.”