Simi at BarnardSimi Linton, one of America’s foremost experts on disability and the arts, was honored with a Medal of Distinction from Barnard College during spring commencement on May 17 at Madison Square Garden.

Linton, a New York City native, was humbled to be recognized. “I was very moved and I was very excited that not only was I being nominated but also that the work that I do on disability issues and activism and the arts were particularly focused on,” she says. “I’d like to commend Barnard for the recognition of disability activism and disability in the arts as something to bring attention through this award.”

Public perception of disability has been influenced by Linton’s work, and her latest project, Invitation to Dance, continues in that tradition. The film, directed and produced by Linton and Christian von Tippelskirch, follows Linton’s life as she transforms from a young disabled woman into a seasoned disability activist. “We use my personal story as a point of entry to tell the larger historical narrative of the rise of the disability rights movement and the emergence of disability culture,” she says.

Numerous barriers have fallen for people with disabilities, but Linton says many remain. “There’s a failure of imagination in this country in terms of seeing disabled people as artists of all stripes,” she says. Linton blames the education system for having little vision for the participation of kids with disabilities in the arts. They grow up not seeing the arts as an avenue for viable careers, and as a result, don’t see themselves being adequately represented in television, movies and the theater.