Three Fridas, One Vision

Mona Lisa in a power wheelchair. The Last Supper attended by people with an array of disabilities. The Girl With A Pearl Earring if she had a facial difference.

These are but a few of the reconceptions of classic works of art in Tres Fridas, a new show highlighting the lived experiences of people with disabilities and challenging modern ways of thinking about disability. The show, which debuted September 7 in Chicago, is the work of Reveca Torres, Mariam Paré and Tara Ahern, three talented female artists with disabilities.

Torres and Paré, who both have spinal cord injuries, met online over five years ago and quickly bonded over their shared artistic backgrounds, Mexican heritage and love of Frida Kahlo. They joined up with Ahern, a fellow Kahlo fan and a photographer with muscular dystrophy and scoliosis, to recreate Kahlo’s famous Dos Fridas, inserting themselves as the two Fridas. They came away from the project wanting to do more. “The experience moved us profoundly,” says Paré. “Our goal was to demystify disability and present it in a different way to the public — almost normalize it by putting it in a format people understand and including it in art history. … This way, people can see the similarities that we share instead of our differences.”

The exhibition ran from Sept. 7-22 at Bridgeport Gallery, but Paré says the trio hopes to take the art on tour in the near future. You can follow the Tres Fridas Project on Facebook and Instagram at @TresFridasProject.

#IndependTips

Nobody is better positioned to share useful tips and resources for people with disabilities than people with disabilities. That simple philosophy underlies the daily IndependTips that nonprofit NMD United has been creating and sharing online since the beginning of 2019.

Drop something? Toss a handled bag on the floor, scoot the dropped object into it, and snag the handle with your reacher.

Drop something? Toss a handled bag on the floor, scoot the dropped object into it, and snag the handle with your reacher.

Each IndependTip takes the form of an easy-to-share video, infographic or image containing a short piece of advice or insight. From pithy to obvious to insightful, the IndependTips are all practical.

Just as NMD United is led entirely by people with disabilities, the IndependTips are brainstormed, polished and designed by NMD board members. President Emily Wolinksy says the IndependTips align with the organization’s focus on helping people with neuromuscular disorders. “We’re not looking for a cure, we’re looking for resources to be independent,” she says.

Wolinksy isn’t sure how or if the IndependTips will continue in 2020 but says the organization has considered publishing a daily calendar and a book. Search #IndependTips on any social media platform to get your fix and check out NMD United at nmdunited.org.

Advocacy Matters

As part of September’s celebration of national SCI Awareness month, United Spinal Association rolled out four new videos highlighting the advocacy efforts of members from across the country. Filmed and edited by videographer Hannele Lahti, the short videos profile Washington member Kenny Salvini; Washington, D.C., member Shannon Minnick; Puerto Rico member Elvis Segarra; and Colorado member Quinn Brett. “I think the biggest misconception about people in wheelchairs is how people are thought of,” says Salvini, United Spinal’s Advocate of the Year. “You hear, ‘confined to a wheelchair,’ I’m not confined to this wheelchair. This wheelchair gets me out doing life and living a life I never could have imagined when I first got hurt.” To see the rest of their stories, visit youtube.com/user/UnitedSpinalTV.

Access Guru

Randy Duchesneau is working to improve accessibility at the national level.

Just a few years after helping found United Spinal Association’s Greater Philadelphia Chapter, Randy Duchesneau is taking his advocacy efforts to a different level as an accessibility specialist for the U.S. Access Board’s Office of Technical and Information Services. As one of four new hires this June, Duchesneau, a quad and power wheelchair user, is helping define accessibility standards and guidelines.

Duchesneau has a lengthy resume working on disability issues, but says he saw the new job as a chance to expand his knowledge base. “I wanted to learn more about what accessibility requirements were and to be in a position to help others understand as well,” he says. Since starting, he has been involved in discussions on access requirements for autonomous vehicles and voluntary guidelines for wheelchairs on airplanes. He has found the experience empowering and urges others to make their voices heard through official channels. “It’s one thing to complain about accessibility on Facebook, but it’s much better to have your voice heard in public comments or a forum where there is a chance for change.”

The Access Board is an independent federal agency that promotes equality for people with disabilities through leadership in accessible design and the development of accessibility guidelines and standards. Created in 1973 to ensure access to federally funded facilities, the Board is now a leading source of information on accessible design. The Board develops and maintains design criteria for the built environment, transit vehicles, telecommunications equipment, medical diagnostic equipment, and information technology. It also provides technical assistance and training on these requirements and on accessible design and continues to enforce accessibility standards that cover federally funded facilities. Learn more about the Access Board at access-board.gov.

Barker Breaks Big

Vogue, the most influential fashion publication in the world, recently featured the multi-talented model, actor, activist — and wheelchair user — Emily Barker on its blog. Barker’s Instagram feed @celestial_investments may initially come off as any other showcase of the young, stylish and good-looking, but start reading the captions and you’ll find thoughtful content meant to challenge readers’ notions of disability. That, as Barker told Vogue, is by design: “We live in a culture that only values the way things look at this point, so being able to derive some content and meaning from that is important.” You can also find Barker on The Death Panel podcast, which does regular deep dives into healthcare policy and the disability community.