Around 20 people attended the “Disability in the Denton Community: Perspectives and Possibilities” panel held Saturday afternoon at the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center. This event brought together a panel of speakers to talk about the issue of disabilities in Denton.
Among the attendees were Paul Meltzer and Deb Armintor, councilpersons for At Large Place 4 and At Large Place 5, respectively.
The panel was hosted by Friends with Benefits Denton, an organization that works to support North Texas charities by putting on events to raise funds and awareness, and part of the Center’s Open HeARTS art show that exhibits “2D artworks from local artists with disabilities, raising money for Denton State Supported Living Center,” the event program read.
The panelists for this event were Zachary Robey, who has autism, Dr. Linda Hilgenbrinck, who is an adapted physical education specialist, Pam Teague, a mother of someone with disabilities and Val Vera, a disabled freelance writer and disability activist. Heather Katz moderated the event.
One of the first questions asked by Katz was what role disability has played into the panelists’ lives.
“My autism has played a big role, not only in my life but in my whole family’s life,” Robey said. “I was diagnosed in 1998 and we have participated, volunteered and have been a part of the autism community ever since.”
Robey said he would not be who he is today without having autism.
“It has opened me up to new people, places and the support I would never be a part of without being on the spectrum,” he said. “Autism doesn’t define me, it defines my autism.”
Vera started his answer with “it’s almost easier to answer what it doesn’t play in my life.”
“I identify as a disabled person and because of that, I have unique experiences, I have a unique perspective,” Vera said. “It helps me as a writer, it helps me as a viewer of the disability community. So identifying with my disability really propels me in that direction.”
One of the questions Katz asked Vera was about a common misconception the general public has about disabilities.
“I’ve thought about this and I think one of the common misconceptions — there’s so many — but I’d have to say the misconception that disabled individuals are not interested or not involved in relationships,” Vera said. “I don’t think we are seen as sexual or involved intimately or want to be, or identify as LGBTQ or straight or whatever it is.”
Vera said he thinks that in particular is a big misconception and a hinderance.
“[With] a disability, there’s just that stigma that you’re not seen that way, you’re seen as the good friend or the brother type,” Vera said. “As you get older, you grow out of that. You realize it’s more of a society issue and not a personal issue, so that’s a huge misconception, especially for younger adults with disabilities that have to go through that.”
When Katz asked about social and recreational opportunities missing from Denton, Hilgenbrinck started her answer with “how much time do we have?”
“I’m an adapted P.E. specialist, so being physically active and motivated by opportunities for physical activity is what I target and am all about,” Hilgenbrinck said. “I’d love to see things like a miracle league field here.”
Hilgenbrinck said she would love to see open bocce courts.
“I think that could be a larger conversation for a number of different people to come together and talk about what does Denton lack, and how can we get the gaps filled to offer more for everybody, for all individuals?” Hilgenbrinck said.
Following Hilgenbrinck’s answer, Teague spoke about another misconception about the disability community.
“I think the misconception is that they don’t want to do anything,” Teague said. “They’re OK to sit at home and not participate, and that’s just not true.”
Following the panelists answering questions from Katz, attendees were able to ask questions. Once the event ended, attendees were invited to walk around the gallery to look at art from artists with disabilities, all of which were available to purchase.
The Open HeARTS art show will continue until May 18.
Featured Image: The Disability in the Denton Community: Perspectives and Possibilities panel was held Saturday afternoon at the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center and featured speakers to talk about disabilities in Denton. Lizzy Spangler