If you are sitting on a chair while reading this or scrolling on a smart phone or reading these words through a pair of glasses or contact lenses, then you are using an assistive device. That is a term commonly associated with wheelchairs, canes, prostheses, and hearing aids, but, in reality, every body alive depends on assistive devices to get through the day.
That was the message delivered by Merry Lynn Morris, a member of the dance faculty at the University of South Florida, at the ADA Silver Anniversary Summit. Addressing more than 100 artists and arts administrators gathered to celebrate the legacy of the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, she expanded the notion of “disability” and challenged the crowd to reimagine the ways in which the disabled are offered assistance.
“Emotional and aesthetic responses are often left out of the development process of assistive devices,” Morris observed. “Yet assistive devices can offer not just function, but creative movement expression.”
Then she introduced her own invention: the Rolling Dance Chair. Unlike a conventional wheelchair, Morris’ chair allows the user to move in any direction across the floor. The seat also permits the user to tilt and move in place. Perhaps most important, the seat can move up and down, allowing the user to comfortably hug or hold hands with a loved one.
Love appeared to be the inspiration not just for Morris’ invention, but for the entire program at the ADA Summit. The Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, the Arsht Center and the Florida Access Coalition for the Arts organized the two-day meeting on September 24 and 25. Hundreds of artists and arts administrators who receive funding from the county joined experts in providing access to the arts for people of all abilities for panel discussions, workshops, and demonstrations.
Love infused the VSA Residency Showcase, a performance hosted each year by the Arsht Center, featuring dancers with intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease. The dancers are trained through the artist-in-residence program hosted by VSA Florida. VSA stands for “very special arts,” and the dancers presented a very special program.
“This piece is about love,” announced Lize-Lotte Pitlo, introducing a group of dancers from MACtown. Facing each other, nine pairs of dancers swayed and swirled. They hugged themselves. They opened their arms to embrace each other. The smiles on their faces invited the audience to join them, inviting everyone to be an artist.