Eleven percent of Bay Area residents live with a disability. That includes developmental disabilities like autism, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome. Society makes accommodations for people with these conditions when they're young and in school, like mandated special needs education. But once they’ve aged out, life can become even more challenging. And in the U.S., history has not been kind.
It was just 40 years ago that the Rehabilitation Act passed. It prohibited federal discrimination against “handicapped” individuals. In 1980, the U.S. made it illegal to hold people in institutions against their will. It wasn’t until 1990 that the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, requiring accessibility for everybody. But there are still big challenges for disabled adults.
The maximum government allowance for somebody with a disability is only about $700 per month. That's not enough to afford independence, especially in the Bay Area. But there is a place in Oakland that provides not only a sense of independence, but also of community. It's called Creative Growth, and it’s the oldest and largest art center for people with disabilities in the world. Tom di Maria is its Director. He joined KALW’s Ben Trefny in studio to talk about what it’s like to be an adult with a developmental disability.
DI MARIA: When you ask people to speak to you and to communicate about who they are, they do. And if you haven’t been asked that for 20 or 30 or 40 years, you have a lot to say.
Click the audio player above to listen to the complete interview.
View work from Creative Growth artists here. Or visit the gallery in person at 355 24th Street in Oakland.