“After a while,” the woman at the podium said, “You don’t see the disability. You see the person.”
It was a sentiment echoed by each of the speakers at the July 12 CCC Presents, a panel discussion on living with disabilities. The event, held at Carnegie Public Library, was organized and moderated by CCC member Kathy Rowe (pictured to the left). Presenters included Jan Wilson and Penny Burlew from the Steuben County Special Olympics, Tiffany Bater, the Activity Director at RISE, and CCC’s own Susan Catteral who is an advocate for people with autism.
There was also a presentation by a woman whose organization supports those living independently. She stressed the sense of dignity and personal accomplishment that comes from maintaining one’s own home. Her goal, she said, was to help residents blend in to their communities. If anyone noticed her clients at all, she hoped it was only to remark, “They are the best neighbors we ever had.”
The other half of the evening included presentations by people with disabilities themselves. Nicole Scheiber, Steuben County Special Olympic Athlete Leader Representative, talked about the experience of training for and competing in the Special Olympics, showing off several of her medals and awards. A newly-married couple discussed their relationship and the importance of communication. “This is like a home to me here in Steuben,” said the husband, “my neighbors brought me closer to [my wife] and to the community.” Another man talked about the job he loved and how Steuben County had provided a much-needed change of pace from his hometown of Detroit. “I like Angola because it’s quiet,” he said. Another woman noted her frustration that handicap accessible entrances are not always marked, but added that she loved the work she did at RISE.
In other words, those who spoke shared that they were people with marriages, jobs, goals, frustrations, joys, and (only very incidentally) disabilities.
CCC thanks each of the presenters for their openness and those who attended. The evening was a positive step towards our mission both of “providing safe spaces for members of marginalized groups,” and “making discussions of social justice and tolerance” a regular part of community life.