The New Normal - Perks?


Without a doubt, 2020 has been a rollercoaster ride!  I still feel the faint wisps of my New Year's Eve personal declaration, "Yes!  2020 is gonna be my year!!" (alongside throngs of other people around the globe).

For me, 2020 meant there was monthly travel within the United States with some of my volunteer work, starting in March and extending through June.  All of that ended on a dime as events became virtual, or were cancelled altogether.  Additionally, a major project I've been working on launching the fundraising portion also had to be delayed to 2021.


Overnight, school were closed and homeschooling my first grade son became my number one priority.  On top of it all, both my husband and I had to reconfigure our work schedules (I was accustomed to working from home with the private time to do so), the home schedule (everybody is here...like all the time), the family dynamics (I'm going outside for a minute-hour-I'm-hiding) to ensure each person had their necessary solitude and privacy during quarantine.

Throughout the pandemic and quarantine, one theme that kept popping up was one of "The New Normal."  For much of the disability community, the new normal was already the normal (or at least semi-normal).  Approaches to work and life that the disability community has said were possible and necessary for decades -- such as working from home, remote jobs, delivery services, fee waivers for many services, greater independence,  and a boost to smarter uses of our technology -- suddenly overnight became readily available.  It was almost amusing to see how quickly services and methods of communication that would-have-and-could-have greatly benefitted our community ages ago, immediately became "the new normal."

Post-pandemic, hopefully we will see a continued streamlining of services, networking, remote work, artistic sharing, and information flowing to us, which would end up being a wonderful "new normal."

Here at Mobile Women, we realized we had an opportunity to make positive, impactful changes as well. In the spirit of creating additional positive "new normals," Mobile Women (the website) will be shifting to the private Facebook platform only.

Gradually we will no longer host a separate website.  Instead, we are opening up our organization to being more community run and people generated through the private closed group Facebook platform.   

You, our Mobile Women members, will have the opportunity to publish stories to our private FB group, share new resources you have discovered, comment on articles, submissions, conversation starters, and posts in real time.  We plan to transition to the FB platform over the next month.  By July the website content will be operated solely through the FB group.  By August the website will be shut down.

We will still have moderators, you can still ask questions through the FB group messaging system that one of our moderators will reply to.  By July you will still be able to access existing Resources via a PDF file on Facebook, while new resources will become a living stream of links via posts by our members.

Essentially, we are already doing much of this.  The only difference will be that there will no longer be the need to click off of Facebook group and travel to an off-site webpage for resources, comments, full articles, and info.  Everything will be in our closed group -- which makes it simpler for you, our readers and community members.

Look for posts and prompts from us on the Facebook Group page as we transition.  We're looking forward to creating a more interactive platform, open up participation among members, and expand to more easily include women with disabilities from around the world.

If we are to face a "new normal,"  let's have our say and create our own ways of communicating, sharing, and contributing to one another with support, resources, stories, conversations, and articles.   For you.  By you.


A Rolling Mona Lisa: Artist, Advocate, Activist


An Artist’s Point of View: Interview with Wendy Elliott-Vandivier by Wendy Crawford

Wendy Elliott-Vandivier
Recently my husband, Peter, generously offered to take in my accessible van for a maintenance check-up. I quickly jumped at the offer given it is one of my least favorite things to do.  

While he was there, I started receiving a series of text messages from him with photos of a beautiful golden retriever, very similar to our beloved one that had passed away. The owner was waiting for her van to be repaired and apparently, Peter struck up a conversation with she and her husband. He then mentioned what a gifted artist that this woman was and that we should connect.

When he returned home, Peter gave me her business card.  It immediately caught my attention because of the vibrant, colorful self-portrait on the front. Not only was it beautifully executed, but the fact that she was wearing several hospital-like alert bracelets stacked on her arm like bangles, looking stylish and chic, peaked my interest. She had an intriguing expression on her face not, unlike the “Mona Lisa” --  almost a smirk --  that made me feel as though she knew something that the rest of us didn’t.

As soon as I looked at her website it immediately became apparent that Wendy Elliott-Vandivier had a voice and a point of view, and she was conveying these important messages through her art. As Edgar Degas once said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

We at mobileWOMEN.org jumped at the opportunity to get to know this talented woman and find out what is behind that mischievous smirk, in our latest interview:

MW: How did you become interested in art and did you have any formal training?

Wendy Elliott-Vandivier: I have been making art my whole life. I would always make drawings, paintings and sculpture since I was a small child. It was something that I enjoyed doing and it came easily for me.

As a child, I took classes at the Philadelphia School Art League and Cheltenham Art Center. When it was time to go to college, I won the Philadelphia Board of Education Scholarship in Art and the Philadelphia City Scholarship. These scholarships enabled me to go to college for free.
I graduated with honors (Magna Cum Laude) from Tyler School of Art of Temple University, where I majored in sculpture, and I also dabbled in painting, photography and other areas. I have continued to make art over the past several decades.
MW: What mediums of art do you prefer to work with and why?

Wendy Elliott-Vandivier: In college, I majored in sculpture, and did a lot of large-scale environmental pieces, conceptual and performance art. One time, I even staged a “funeral” of a disabled poster child to lay stereotypes of pity and helplessness, firmly to rest.

As I have aged with my disability, I found that it is more difficult to physically make large-scale sculpture, and I have focused my efforts of oil painting, cartoons and photography.

My paintings explore issues of family, memory and experiences as a disabled woman.
My autobiographical cartoons focus on attitudinal barriers and stereotypes regarding disabilities, and some of the micro-aggressions that disabled people experience while living normal, un-inspirational lives. 
I am also a photographer of micro-scale monuments in nature, and I am often inspired by close-up images that people often do not notice in daily life – tree bark, dead leaves, flower anatomy, and water.
MW: Do you have any technical tips, equipment or tools that you use when creating from a chair?

Wendy Elliott-Vandivier: I was born with Spina Bifida, and use a motorized wheelchair 100% of the time for mobility. When I create my cartoons, I use a portable drafting board that sits on top of my dining room table. I can easily roll my wheelchair under the table and comfortably draw from a seated position.

When I do oil painting, I mainly use a large floor easel that I can adjust up and down, depending on the size of the canvas or section of the painting in which I am working. If I am working on a smaller canvas, I have a table-top easel that is also adjustable.

For my photography, I have a small digital camera with a zoom lens. Having a zoom lens makes it a lot easier to photograph things that are hard to reach from a wheelchair.

MW: Did you start to create cartoons to convey a message or did that organically fall into place?

Wendy Elliott-Vandivier: I get inspiration for new cartoons by just getting out in public and doing normal things like going to work, getting out of my van, eating at restaurants, going to the doctor’s office and traveling to new places.
Sometimes, I am unable to think of a good response at the time to the insensitive remarks or conduct of others. So, I started writing down the remarks on a “note pad” app on my cell phone. Eventually, after a few days or weeks, I get an idea for a cartoon. I start to make rough sketches of the ideas at first, and then refine them into detailed pen and ink drawings and then apply color with colored pencils.
I often use animals in my cartoons, especially my service dog, as a kind of “alter ego” or “comic insult dog” to communicate things that are sometimes difficult to say in public.
The color in my cartoons is very bright, happy and sweet, although the subject matter is not. I use humor and color to make it easier to communicate my thoughts – I use a light touch to educate people about my experiences living with a disability and some of the attitudinal barriers that I face on a daily basis.
MW: What are the primary messages do you want others to learn from your art?

Wendy Elliott-Vandivier: I want to convey the message that disabled people are strong, powerful and beautiful people. Respect, recognize, celebrate and value disabled people for who they are and what they bring to the table. Disability is part of our identity – it’s not something to overcome, cure, pity, and it is not a vehicle for inspiration.

We are proud of our disabilities and deserve to be fully included in all aspects of society – education, the workplace, housing, transportation, health care, religious institutions and recreational activities. Inclusion is nothing special – it is just a seat at the table, to have a voice and access to what everyone else has! 

MW: You are also “a photographer of micro-scale monuments in nature, and is often inspired by close-up images that people often do not notice in daily life – tree bark, dead leaves, flower anatomy, and water.”  Why have you focused on this perspective and do you feel that your disability had any influence on this choice?

Wendy Elliott-Vandivier: I always joke with my non-disabled husband, who also likes photography, that when we go to photograph a park or garden, and we later compare our photos, it looks like we were in totally different places. He focuses on panoramic views, while I am intrigued by small, close-up objects that are close to the ground. I believe that my view from the wheelchair has given me a strong and unique perspective with my photography. I enjoy changing the viewer’s perspective, making tiny things look gigantic, sometimes to the point that they are not sure what they are viewing.

MW: What advice would you offer to other mobileWOMEN that are considering becoming an artist?

Wendy Elliott-Vandivier: Art is a great outlet, whether you are pursuing it as a profession or a hobby. I create because I have to. It is like eating and breathing for me. It’s just something I must do to survive. It is a great outlet for me to communicate my ideas, experiences and my unique view of the world around me.
MW: What goals do you hope to achieve with your art?

Wendy Elliott-Vandivier: I often use my art to educate others and try to make the world a better place. I would like to continue this through a variety of venues. My work has three main areas of focus: storytelling of my lived experiences to fight attitudinal barriers and misconceptions, bringing art as a means of expression to the disabled community through workshops, dialogue, and teaching, and activism to bring about social change through exhibiting my work to the nondisabled community.
At first, the process of creating art is cathartic for myself, portraying otherwise dark and painful experiences with humor and freeing myself to begin the work of helping others. I then focus on sharing these experiences to as wide an audience as possible, to make disabled people less invisible and emphasize the importance of the struggle for disability justice. I also aim to give disabled people a voice through the visual arts by teaching them how to create their own works.
MW: Lastly, will you share your thoughts behind the smirk in your self-portrait?

Wendy Elliott-Vandivier: I painted my self-portrait, “Medical Bling” after I had to spend four months in bed (2 of which were in a rehab hospital) recovering from surgery for a pressure sore. (At the time, I joked that I “wore my butt off” by working 53 hours a week!) While in the hospital, I had to wear multiple wrist band labels for falling, allergy, etc. My tongue-in-cheek, detailed self-portrait shows me as an artist with my medical bling or labels that do not describe my essence and beauty as a woman. I believe that the medical profession needs to see disabled people as full human beings, and not just as objects that need to be treated or cured.
MW: Any other comments or thoughts that you would like to share?

Wendy Elliott-Vandivier: Most non-disabled people who view my cartoons really like them, and they are often surprised at some of the things that I have experienced. Sometimes they feel sad that people say these things to me. Other people may wonder if they had inadvertently made remarks that were inappropriate.
Most disabled people who view my cartoons love the “disability positive” message that I am delivering, especially in the cartoon about terminology used by society to describe disabled folks. They have experienced similar things when they are just out there, going about their business and trying to live normal, “un-inspirational” lives.
To view more of Wendy’s art, visit her website at www.wendyevart.com
© 2020 Wendy Elliott-Vandivier All rights reserved.





Art: The Greatest Version of Ourselves


Contributed by Aimee Hofmann

Gold at the End of the Rainbow
The scariest yet most exhilarating thing about life is waking up in the morning.  We actually never know if we’ll have an ordinary day, or the type of day that changes our lives forever.

I’ve had so many ordinary days in my life.  But, one day in October of 2006, my day became anything but ordinary. Within hours of waking up I found myself lying in a hospital bed unable to feel or move my legs.  I was diagnosed with sudden on-set Transverse Myelitis -- an inflammation of the spinal cord -- that paralyzed me from the T10 vertebrae of the spine.  The doctor said, “You may never walk again.”  

It stabbed me in the stomach like a knife.

When a person is not born disabled and then suddenly becomes disabled, they go through stages of grief similar to the death of a loved one. There are moments of anger, some panic attacks, any number of meltdowns, fears like you’ve never felt before, shock, denial, numbness…you name it.   

Visitors try to make you feel better, and while you’re thankful for the flood of support, it often becomes overwhelming.  Well-meaning advice and comfort were often inadvertently filled with Shoulds: You should be feeling grateful.  You should stay positive.  You should be strong and hopeful. You should be looking towards the future and concentrating on getting better. You should be adaptable. 

Thirteen years later I am proud to say that I’ve achieved all those “should” attitudes over time – but it didn’t happen overnight.   It took years of hard work, processing, a lot of internal work, and believe it or not… a lot of painting!

"Canvas has no judgement ." 
The NYU hospital where I was a patient for two months, ran a therapeutic painting program for long-term patients who were traumatically injured.  Anyone could go to a quiet room and just paint. One day I figured, “Why not?” Art had been a huge part of my life as a favorite form of expression growing up.  I was known as the “artistic kid” in the class.  I was that teenage girl who sat for hours in my room drawing and sketching portraits of the people that I knew.  As an adult I became too busy with work, marriage, and socializing for my art.  And now, here was art, coming back into my life by being stuck in a hospital room with nothing else to do except, well…paint.

Aimee at Work
I celebrated my 30th birthday in the hospital as I began the process of learning to adapt to this new life with a disability.   I relearned how to do simple daily tasks, to pick up where my husband and I left off in our marriage, and I learned how to take care of and adjust to my new body while finding the courage to get out into the world again.  The journey was as overwhelming as the floods of visitors and the emotions that come with sudden acquired disability. 

That’s where the canvas came in.

One of the first things I did when I returned home was buy canvas   -- big, clean, bright white, blank canvas that stared back at me.  The canvas had no judgment. The canvas didn’t talk back telling me what I should be doing or how I should feel. The canvas accepted anything I felt like expressing that I couldn’t put into words.

Suddenly I just let myself go, pouring and mixing all sorts of colors, then brushing and blending them away.  I spent all my free time painting.  I began to feel pure joy again.  My soul was finding peace -- yet I was on fire!   I felt gratitude - gratitude that I had found something I was good at that I truly loved.

Painting keeps me in the present moment. I can’t change what happened to me in the past, and I can’t worry about what will happen to me in the future.  We can’t control what happens in our lives, but we can control how we embrace the present moment.

Violet Sunset Kiss
Each time I finish an art piece, I look at my finished work, and feel a sense of accomplishment and pride. When I see the bright, bold colors in vibrant patterns I’ve created it becomes evident to me that, while paralysis may have taken away my ability to walk, it did not take away my ability to express myself with the color and zest of my spirit.

Over the years there have been a few major life events that have made me have to pause in my art work (having and raising children), but I always return to painting.  I share my passion for art with my two children, especially my 5-year old son, who has proven to be quite a little art prodigy.  Every wall in our home is filled with artwork, making it a home full of love, happiness, and positive vibes again. 

After receiving great feedback from friends and family, I felt the need to share my work with the rest of the world.  The desire to bring vibrancy into the personal space of others eventually grew strong enough for me to start my own art studio, Art by Aimee Studio.  It took some time to gather the courage to debut my paintings, which had been sitting on my bedroom floor for so long. 

When you wake up in the morning, not knowing if you’ll have an ordinary day or an extraordinary day that will change your life, may you have the courage to face whatever may come.  Like the swirls in my paintings, life may bring you through many twists and turns.  But, eventually, life will lead you back up and around again to the place where you were meant to be. Through all of this, it is courage that reveals the greatest version of ourselves!

_________________________________________________________

Aimee Hofmann
Note: Aimee lives in Westchester with her husband and two children. Other than being the founder of Art by Aimee Studio.  She is a disability advocate and has been a guest writer/contributor for mobileWOMEN.org.  When she’s not painting, she is swimming or cooking yummy meals for her family.
 Prints (on various media: canvas, metal, wood, paper or framed in 7-9 different sizes) of her artwork can be purchased at Art by Aimee Studio.  Please contact artbyaimeestudio@gmail to inquire about
purchasing original or commissioned pieces. Follow the @artbyaimeestudio page on Facebook or Instagram

To My Six-Year Old Self: We Made It!


By Abigail Brown
Abigail Brown: Fairy Tales
Like lots of little girls, I always wanted to be a ballerina. For my sixth birthday, I was taken to see a performance of Giselle at the famous dance venue Sadler’s Wells in London. The word ‘disability’ not yet in my vocabulary, I saw no reason why the pirouetting figure on the stage couldn’t be me.
Born with genetic collagen disorder osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as ‘OI’ or brittle bones, I was an unlikely ballet student. By the age of six I had sustained multiple broken bones, and was beginning to show the signs of degenerative hearing loss and scoliosis. 
And then I met a dance teacher who agreed to let me join her ballet class. Thanks to her kindness and patience, I stayed for ten years. The slow, controlled exercise of ballet was fantastic for my health.  But while my overall mobility increased, so did my consciousness of how that mobility looked. By my last lesson, I had learned to detest my body and felt nothing but disgust for its crass imitation of movements, which I had once imagined dancing with such grace.  
After becoming a full-time wheelchair user, I began to dream of dancing once more. In 2018 I signed up for a ten-week course in wheelchair ballroom dancing with Step Change Studios. Allowing myself to dance again was painful, both physically and emotionally. One of the ways I had learned to manage my disability was to make it the object of my own jokes; to mock the way I looked before anyone else could. But dance lessons asked me to take my own physicality seriously. Admitting that I cared about how my body moved was so intensely embarrassing that, when asked to improvise, I spent the entire lesson crying in the corner from shame.
Photographer: Stephen Wright
Our teacher at Step Change Studios, Ivana Ostrowski, was hugely supportive. We learned different styles of ballroom dance, which she adapted for each individual student depending on their disability. We ultimately worked out a routine which we performed at the national Design Museum in London as part of an event to celebrate the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities
After the show, I was surprised to realize that something had changed: I felt proud of our performance. I felt proud of how I moved.
Mass media and society teaches us to equate disability with tragedy, or to view wheelchairs as symbols of pity to which their users are ‘bound’. Yet, in every sense, my wheelchair has become my liberation. 
It allows me a freedom of movement which my legs could never afford.  
South Asian Kuchipudi Dance Festival
Twenty years after I first watched Giselle, and ten years after I thought I’d hung up my dancing shoes for good, I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in Step Change Studios’ professional showcase Fairy Tales, at Sadler’s Wells itself in 2019. Being surrounded by so many professional disabled dancers was fantastic. Here, our wheelchairs were not inconveniences to be hidden, but tools which enabled both disabled and non-disabled dancers to move in new, innovative, beautiful ways. 
We practiced in the studios of prestigious dance schools, wore the Swarovski-encrusted dresses as seen on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, and shared the backstage corridors of Sadler’s Wells with professional ballerinas. I even modeled for the show’s promotional poster!  Seeing the hard work, commitment and sincerity our choreographers and volunteers placed on Fairy Tales, and the grace and poise of my fellow dancers, was the permission I needed to take dancing seriously. 
Photographer: Stephen Wright
Recently, I was delighted to take part in the International South Asian Kuchipudi Dance Festival in West London, performing a Latin-Indian fusion piece, which we performed again at a glamorous awards show in Westminster. This time, I felt no shame in explaining what I can and can’t do, and needed no encouragement to hold my head up high. 
After so many years of despising and often neglecting my body, Step Change Studios has helped me to finally give it the credit it deserves. My dancing might not look the way I once dreamed it would look, but it feels like pure joy.
Now I can truly say:  To my six-year-old self: We made it! 
_____________________________________
Abigail Brown learned ballet for ten years as a child, and after transitioning to using a wheelchair full-time was keen to take up dancing again. She joined UK-based inclusive dance company Step Change Studios' beginner ballroom dance programme in 2018. In a short space of time Abigail has progressed to perform alongside professional dancers. Abigail is also an aspiring writer. You can follow Step Change Studios at: 
Twitter: @Step_Change
Instagram: @stepchangestudios
www.stepchangestudios.com

Happy New Year - Cheers to a New Decade!

Have you ever noticed with each passing year, whenever you sign up for new profile online, the time it takes to scroll and find your year of birth feels more and more like spinning The Wheel of Fortune wheel?  I do in fact remember the days where I could click on my DOB with a only a few clicks.  Now, I spin that scroller like I'm hoping for the silver-glittered jackpot.

By the time my late 40's showed up I seemed to become resigned to the facts and took on an attitude of adventure.  I began to appreciate (or imagine) that my years of spinning the wheel of decades was simply a nod towards my gained wisdom.  My sage-ness.  My experience.  My total shock-and-awe that I'd changed yet another age-bracket on surveys and applications.

Whether we're spinning the age wheel for the jackpot, or whether we're two clicks away from being signed up for the latest app, it is well worth looking at the last decade in review as we forge our way into a new one, both young and old(er) -- the 2010's are gone like Friends leaving Netflix.  An era, or at least a mini-one, has concluded.  Thankfully we have seen the disability community take strides towards inclusion we had only once dreamed of.  Here's a look at how the last decade shaped up for people with disabilities:

Rosa Marcellino 
In 2010 alone, we changed protocols about how intellectual disabilities were termed through Rosa's Law  -- which is more important and strident than it may sound at first.  Words are powerful, and sometimes it takes decades to come up with terms that define accurately (especially in a court of law) concepts that the general population has a hard time dealing with or understanding from both a mental and emotional place.  Legislation is impossible to create or implement without the correct non-discriminatory or derogatory terminology.  We also saw the entertainment industry start to step up to the plate by close-captioning feature-length unedited films online.

Disability Pride NYC
The next few years brought to life the FAIR (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful) Education Act in California, schools began to include or provide sports for students with disabilities, the ABLE Act (Achieving a Better Life Experience) allowed people with disabilities to save money and build financial stability, the first Disability Pride Parade was held in New York City with Tom Harkin as Grand Marshall, several states banned the action of people with disabilities being paid less than minimum wage, and live theatre saw its first disabled actress, Ali Stroker, win a Tony award.

Tyrion Lannister: GOT
Reality shows, online channels, and independent lens featured people with disabilities (Game of Thrones, Friday Night Lights, Breaking Bad, The Guild, Joan of Arcadia, NCIS: New Orleans, Extreme Ghost Busters, Glee, My Gimpy Life, Push Girls, Little Women, The Little Couple, Little People Big World) in positive inclusive roles.  The barrier between being portrayed as either the heroic inspiration or victim was broken down, and replaced with active, well-rounded characters who were part of the story.   Target print ads as well as Target Stores have featured not only children and adults with all types of disabilities in their ads, but also stocked Halloween costumes for wheelchairs, adaptive clothing, and in-store ad displays that featured models with disabilities.  Established fashion houses have now begun collaborating with designers to create adaptive fashion, and include "real life" models with disabilities.  Most notably, Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, and Billy Footwear.

The most recent of these steps towards visual inclusion have all occurred primarily within the last three years.  These are exciting times!

Robyn "T-Rex" Lambird for Target
Yet the moment of truth is this:  we have so much more work to do, and so many wonderful things to accomplish together in the coming decade.  While I am proud of where we are, I can't help but feel these milestones should have (and could have) been reached a long time ago.  In the spirit of celebrating that they are here now, I applaud their arrival with inspired hope of even better things to come.

The point is, each time I spin The Wheel of Fortune on my online profiles, or change age brackets on surveys and applications...I truly understand and remember with great clarity how little understanding or visibility women (or anyone) with disabilities had back when I only had to do a couple mouse clicks.

Times have changed for the better.  And it is up to us to make sure they continue to do so.  Much like the experiences of The Suffragettes gave way to women not having to think twice about their privilege to vote....wear the badge of honor proudly that you have lived to see these changes create a world where the next generation will not blink an eye at accessing inclusive education, or seeing themselves in ads, on stage, or in film.

Cheers, mobileWOMEN!  Cheers to you for where you have come from, where you are, and most certainly where you're going!

Welcome to the 2020's!  Our next article will feature Abbi Brown of Step Change Studios!