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Beyond the label: WSU hosts celebration of disability culture

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Disability is something to be celebrated as part of life, not viewed as a negative thing.

That’s the message of “A View of Yourself,” an art show event this weekend at Winona State University featuring the work of students and adults with disabilities.

The show sprung out of a discussion in WSU professor Kelly Herold’s disability communication and culture class at WSU. With his 24 students, Herold explored the idea of disability culture, where disability is appreciated and celebrated instead of hidden or pitied.

They watched several films featuring folks with disabilities who created beautiful art, competed in sports, and did other things many might assume they couldn’t do. They also contacted Minnesota’s arts and disability organization, VSA, and learned that disability art shows have happened in Saint Cloud and the Twin Cities. They thought they could do something like that in Winona, Herold said.

Herold’s students, each assigned to a different task, distributed art materials to folks at Winona Middle School and Project COMPASS, along with adults with disabilities from Rochester. They also hosted an art party night at the former Central School earlier this month, where a few dozen artists showed up with caregivers for a night of painting.

The project attracted more than 75 artists, and about 30 of the final pieces will be on display to the public at the show this weekend.

The art show will also include a keynote talk by Lydia Dawley, a highschool student and motivational speaker from Decorah who has a disability.

For Herold’s students, the experience gave them insight into what disability really means.

Kelly Highum, a sophomore majoring in sociology, said she didn’t know much about the disability community prior to taking Herold’s course.

Although nearly one in five people in the United States have a disability, they are often marginalized and forgotten, Highum said.

“It was just awesome to see them display their talent and passion for art,” she said, and she has come to see those with disabilities not as less able, but as differently able.

Senior Jessica Reagan said it was remarkable to see how the art brought Winona State students together with middle-schoolers and older adults.

“It was so amazing to see how much fun they were having,” she said. “You can really find a lot of similarities between the populations across the board, regardless of whether they’re disabled or not.”

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