Miami Herald Editorial- May 2006

Beyond these women’s disabilities

By Shelly Baer

Too often in our media-driven culture, we are shown images of “perfection” rather than ordinary people. And for those of us with disabilities, it’s a powerful reminder of how different we are and how differently we’re perceived.

The portrayal of women who are disabled is especially warped. Rarely does one see a woman who is disabled in magazines, on TV or in the movies. If she is included, she is usually stereotyped as a victim who needs protection or as “a heroine” who has beaten the odds. Rarely is her beauty recognized, and almost never is she portrayed as a sexual being. We think it’s time to begin to break down the stigma attached to women with disabilities.

The Center for Independent Living of South Florida has teamed up with a group of photographers and photography students from the Miami Ad School to change our society’s perceptions of people-especially women- with disabilities.

Twenty local disabled women were invited and volunteered to pose for them. I was proud to be one of the women. Among us are artists, attorneys, social workers, activists, teachers, mothers and much more.  Although we have battled obstacles and roadblocks, we have never let our disabilities limit our capabilities. We have learned how to summon our emotional, intellectual and spiritual strength to triumph over pain and debilitation. And, we are always eager to show others how our disability is just one sliver of what defines us.

The exhibit, Uncensored Life: Raw Beauty, allows us to embrace and celebrate our bodies. The images include photos of a quadriplegic artist, a woman in a wheelchair sailing in Biscayne Bay, as well as other inspirational women who have loss of sight/hearing, or multiple sclerosis, spinal-cord injuries and rheumatoid arthritis, as I do. Although our disabilities vary, our journeys share a thread of constant challenge and quiet courage.

At the end of the photo shoot, all of the women featured agreed that the experience was incredibly liberating, solidifying our strength, dignity, empowerment and sisterhood.

We wish that the photos inspire and offer hope to all those with disabilities and that they move policymakers to provide better support for people with disabilities. And for those who are able-bodied, the women trust that the concept of a “beautiful woman” will be challenged and refocused through a new lens of open-mindedness and reflection.