Guest Blogger: William L. Alton on Disability Arts and Stereotypes

Listen to this post read by William L. Alton:

William L. Alton is a dear friend of mine. He has co-starred in both of my short comedy films and has been a writer, poet, teacher, actor, director, and visual artist for years. He has sustained traumatic brain injuries and also has Bi-Polar Disorder and Schizo-Affective Disorder.

Here is his post to share with the community about the arts and what it means for him to be an artist and activist with disabilities.

“I started writing poetry in a psychiatric hospital in the ’80’s. I wrote to impress a girl. It didn’t work, but when I finally got sober and went back to high school a teacher there found me and insisted that I keep writing. He said I was the most talented student he’d ever had. It was huge boost to my morale. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Poetry, stories, plays, you name it. The same teacher steered me toward theater and by the time I was in college I was doing eight to ten shows a year.

When my mental and physical disabilities started to curtail my life, I found people who understood where I was coming from. They included me in their work and now I write and act to spread the word that disability does not mean useless.

I am active most days and planning my next big step in the Disability Arts. I want to reach people with disabilities, but I want to reach a mainstream audience as well. I want the people with disabilities to know that they do not need to be defined by what they can or cannot do. They can be complete, fully realized human beings.

I want those who have not been exposed to people with disabilities to realize that we are not doorstops or speed bumps to be coddled and ignored. I want people from every walk of life to know that no matter how your legs, arms or mind might work that there is world out there for all of us. I want people to see me first as a human being, then as a writer/performer and then as an activist.

I do everything in my power to stay away from confining definitions of people. It’s no different than in Jim Crow days when many thought that someone’s skin color defined them as a human being, what they were capable of, how they thought, what their moral and mental outlook might be. People in wheelchairs, with walkers or canes, people who hear voices or see things others don’t, who have difficulty speaking or moving their bodies, are just people. They are more than the sum of their parts. They are perfect as is, not made to order, not damaged, not to be left behind because they are different. Do not lump people in a group called Disabled and decide, without knowing them, that they can only participate in society if they conform to a preconceived notion of beauty, function or value.”