I have been an artist longer than I have been disabled. Learning to cope with a disability and to adapt my artistic practice to my changing abilities has been a solitary process.
With no network of support among artists with disabilities I have had to negotiate this transition without map or a mentor to guide me. Arts & Disability Network of Manitoba is sure to bring together people who can offer support and guidance to one another.
Though artists with disabilities face particular challenges that others may not face, we are also blessed with an advantage. We are observers of life, improvisers, inventors and creative thinkers. We can articulate the universal human condition in ways that others not trained as artists cannot. We therefore have a critical role to play in the understanding of abilities, and how all of us, across the full spectrum of abilities, must live in our less-than-perfect bodies. Medical professionals can explain the mechanics of debilitating diseases, therapists can illustrate how our bodies function and how we can mitigate the effects of disabilities, but only artists can go deeper, to descry the meaning, the magic and the beauty of living with disabilities.
These are voices that need to be heard, not because we should feel sorry for people with disabilities and give them a hand, but because the voice of the disabled is a powerful voice. We live in a dangerous and difficult world. We alone can tell you what this world is.
Debbie Patterson is a Winnipeg playwright, director, and actor. She is a founding member/actor for Shakespeare in the Ruins, an alumnus of the National Theatre School of Canada, and former Artistic Director of the Popular Theatre Alliance of Manitoba. Currently, she is serving as Artistic Associate at Prairie Theatre Exchange, Winnipeg and sits on the Arts Advisory Panel of the Manitoba Arts Council. She has earned several awards for her musicals and plays.