And so, the empowerment fair came and went. It always happens like that, in the blink of an eye and another conference has gone by, another set of empowerment memories, lessons, new friendships, new voices, and as always, more ideas, more partnerships, more inspiration, and the desire to do more of everything.
What’s different is that, we are now actually able to “do more”. Women with disabilities are hungry for more. We are hungry for information. We are hungry for support. We are hungry for opportunity. We are hungry for recognition. We are hungry for respect. We are hungry for the chance to be ourselves and share our strengths, our truths, our dreams with the world. Every year when we come together as disabled artists showcasing the color of each other’s muse, we put another little mark in the history of our artistic advocacy.
This was the first year we had a two-day event separating the workshops from the art/information fair. Our goal was to give participants the opportunity to experience both days. Even though the only two days available to us were weekdays, (which kept many from participating), the event itself as a whole picture, was indeed, a beautiful picture. Below is a short narrative of both days.
Promptly after breakfast, the harmonious sound of a singing bowl announced that something was about to happen. Participants quieted down in anticipation and without any kind of announcement, poet Lesa Jackson, who has been a supporter of this event from the very first event we hosted, got up and passionately shared an empowered piece called “I am Woman”. Her performance set the mood of woman power that put us in gear to a full day of workshops, each one carefully tailored with specific energy and beautifully introduced by poetry carefully selected to match the tone and energy of each workshop.
NWwDEF board members came together as workshop facilitators along with other guest speakers whose voices and stories filled the room with love, pain, laughter, and many other emotions which were beautifully channeled to evolve into the energy of empowerment, solidarity and sisterhood.
During the motherhood workshop, the tenderness, love and heartache of motherhood were all palpable. Three separate disabled mothers (Board members Meena Outlaw and Denika Douglas and artist Katy Hayes) shared their personal battles, fears, and experiences of being disabled mothers. Each woman’s story was so unique and yet so relatable that it reminded us of the importance of supporting one another.
The ableism and body image workshop opened with the story of Sandy (board member Sandy Crisp) who lost her hands and feet one day out of the blue. Her story was introduced through a poem that narrated the discrimination and ableism she faced the minute she lost her limbs. Later in this workshop, Wyona (NWwDEF’s Vice President Dr. Wyona Freysteinson) leads participants through a powerful exercise through which the women are instructed to tap on the table with a pair of chopsticks they were given. They were asked to make a tapping sound every time they heard a statement they could relate to. Wyona read a list of statements that illustrated situations related to ableism. The sound of ferocious tapping in that room was what being together sounds like when we address the shared struggles and issues we face as disabled women.
The other workshops were equally powerful addressing caregiver relationships leading to powerful and very much needed discussion. The last workshop addressed employment issues from an out of the box perspective. Board member Sara Freeman Smith delivered a powerful presentation about her personal experience as a professional before and after becoming disabled. Her powerful message shared the importance of not measuring success in the old able-bodied ways and to learn to identify and embrace the unique abilities possessed by each of us. She then introduced Marisa Demaya from the Southwest ADA Center who took us into the guts of Title I. of the ADA which is, yes you guessed it, EMPLOYMENT.
In addition, lunch was not only a homecooked meal of shredded chicken in Mexican salsa, Colombian potato salad, Thai cucumber salad and vegetable basmati rice, but this experience also consisted of very humble and real heartfelt fun performances by Maria Palacios’ wild muse and artist Una Lau. They both delivered four popular old songs which had been re-written to reflect life with a disability from various angles and views. It included songs like Let it be which became Let me be, and Hey Jude which became Hey Dude. Both songs spoke to nondisabled people about how the effects of ableist attitudes and behaviors negatively affect our lives.
Day I. came to an end with cake and hugs and the sound of the singing bowl.
The fair aspect of our event is always fun. Disabled artists showcase their work, people come together in a celebratory mood, the energy of friendship and community is always evident at this yearly event. Walgreens was there giving flu shots. The sound of laughter and chatter filled the whole space. NWwDEF had a booth and we gave away chocolate wafers and phone chargers to those who stopped by our booth. From 12-3 we had the art fair along with a short fitness demonstration. At 3:30 the art fair folded up and those who wanted to do karaoke stayed singing and laughing and enjoying some bad singing along with some good singing and some occasional dancing. Throughout the entire day, from the moment we started setting up, NWwDEF board member and attorney Wendy Wilkinson along with attorney David Kahne made themselves available to answer questions for anybody who may need legal help. This went on all day while people had fun and enjoyed the fair.
So, just like that, in the blink of any eye, we have had another successful loved filled, woman power packed event. We are still growing, still learning, still hungry for more.
Thank you for being part of this empowerment journey.
With love and gratitude,
The NWwDEF Board