Beth Prevor on Diversity, Disability, and Feeling Alone in a Room of Peers

This is a guest post from Beth Prevor, co-founder and executive director of Hands On, a non-profit that provides accessibility to arts and culture events for the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.  At the National Arts Marketing Project Conference in November, Beth spoke eloquently about disability as an under-discussed aspect of diversity, and more generally of her feelings of isolation both at the conference and, in particular, when sitting in the diversity plenary session that I moderated.  I found Beth’s comments profound, and the sparked another moment of real self-reflection for me, so I asked her to contribute this piece in hopes of sparking similar thoughts in you.  Thank you Beth — CL

Beth headshotBy way of introduction to this blog, Clay graciously asked me to share some thoughts of my experiences at the National Arts Marketing Project Conference. I appreciate the invitation and hope I have something worthwhile to say.

Portland was my first NAMPC.  I was looking forward to a new experience.  My field is not arts marketing per se.  By trade – I’m a sign language interpreter and have worked as an administrator in the ‘deafness’ field for more than 30 years.  I’m also a arts service provider – running a small nonprofit organization – Hands On, which provides accessibility services to theaters for deaf audiences primarily in NYC.  I’ve long held that audiences with disabilities including deaf audiences would benefit from being considered from a marketing perspective – to understand disability from a multi-cultural standpoint, rather than a strictly legal requirement.  So I was looking forward to an arts marketing conference.  I think too we all need to inter-relate more often – we need to stop ‘preaching to the choir’ by only attending and speaking at conferences of like minded people and start to cross pollinate, for lack of a better phrase.  So for me going to a marketing conference and not a disability or deaf specific conference held the potential of doing some of that cross pollination I thought would help me learn and share disability issues in a non disability specific environment.

I have to first say it was not as easy or as comfortable a time for me as I thought it would be.  I was surprised at how ‘different’ and out of place I felt.  I will admit that this was in no way due to anyone’s comments or looks or anything that overtly made me feel different.  It’s more a statement of fact – I am different.  I am a person with a disability. I walk with a cane and for longer distances I use a scooter.  My diversity, the thing that makes me unique, is my disability – it’s part of who I am and I’m fine with that.  So in looking at the conference schedule, a discussion about diversity (Sunday morning’s 8:00am diversity discussion) was exciting and just the place for me. I assumed it would be representative and reflective of those for whom the discussion was about.  Disability wasn’t mentioned in the blurb about the talk – it was “age, race, ethnicity…and more” – so I thought maybe disability was part of the ‘and more’ section.  I looked to the panel for the diversity I was seeking – other people with disabilities –and while it became a small part of the discussion, it wasn’t discussed by anyone who looked like me or was like me (I thought).

I am very much aware that anyone can have a disability, whether or not it can be seen.  It is always possible (and probable) for anyone on any stage to have a disability – I just didn’t realize how important it was for me to know that whoever was talking about disability was a person with a disability – someone who represented me and understood what I understood, someone with personal experience, someone with a disability.

I commented on some of my thoughts at the panel discussion.  I have to admit, it was scary, I was shaking, and I don’t remember much of what I said, I only knew that saying something was very important to me.  The loneliness of being the ‘only one’ at a place is not something I experience often.  But a diversity panel was a place where I thought my singleness would be lessened – it was not.  I do remember someone mentioning the idea that all people with diverse backgrounds need allies – we need others in the mainstream to work with and speak about issues of diversity. I completely agree.  But more importantly we need to make sure that we include people with these diverse backgrounds to represent the cause.  We, the diverse people, need to be able to see ourselves everywhere.

Diversity is the discussion we all know is important and difficult. It means different things to different people, but for me it’s also an incredibly personal issue.  We all talk about engaging others but until we get our own people to talk about our own issues, we’ll continue to be the ‘other’.  I want to thank Clay for asking me to speak about my thoughts regarding the NAMPC.  I’ve tried to just give a little hint of my experience – I hope that it keeps the discussion going.  I hope we can get people with disabilities more involved in every segment of society.

I’m in the arts, that’s my passion and I’m going to keep going to places where my difference stands out so people with disabilities are seen everywhere.

Thanks for the time.

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Comments

  1. Maria Vlachou says

    Great post, very much to the point. These are precisely the issues Access Culture (www.acessocultura.org), our cultural association based in Portugal, is trying to tackle. Thank you, Beth and thank you, Clayton.

  2. Ximena Varela says

    Thanks Beth and Clay for this. I heard Beth speak some years ago and, as now, her call to think about diversity more broadly (and empathetically?) stuck with me. Your point about enlisting allies is spot on, but it takes tremendous courage for the individual with the disabilty to come forward and make that first connection. Perhaps we can all be more empathetic and proactive in crossing that bridge together.

    • says

      Thanks to all for the comments. And a big thanks to Clay for asking me to contribute. I’m glad we can start talking about disability within the discussion about diversity. I’m hoping to keep the talk going.

  3. says

    Beth — beautifully put! The unfortunate reality is that your post is an all too familiar occurrance. You can easily substitute “deaf” for “black” or “phyisically impaired” for “latino” and the emotions would be the same. Thank you for being a champion to so many and giving access to those in the deaf community

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