Imagine if Princess Leia was Blind…and Living in a Country Far, Far Away…
This blog may not be as exciting as following the exploits of an intergalactic rebellion, but I CAN tell you that my blog will at least have you chuckling and sometimes raising an eyebrow in interest. This is my first blog where the main focus is writing, and this is my first post. While I’m weaving in a lot of humor into this blog, I am documenting something I take very seriously. I’m here in the Czech Republic on a Fulbright Student Research Grant, focusing on access in the arts for disabled people . My own identity as someone living with profound low vision has already been integral in helping me gain a very basic understanding of what access is like here. This part of my identity will loom large in this blog and so will art, culture, education, food and love. I assure you, this blog will not turn into the Jar Jar Binks of blogs. So, welcome! Thank you for coming over and big hugs to you all!
Take My Hand, We’ll Make It I Swear!
An oh, so glamorous shot of me after traveling over 24 hours. straight. Are we in Dublin…or it Prague? Image Description: me, a white woman, with chin length brown hair with a slight grin, turning my head slightly to the camera. I am wearing a very large backpack.
This blog will mostly be coming to you from the historic city of Brno in the Czech Republic. Don’t let my name fool you, I am not Czech but Croatian and New Jersey is my home base. In grad I fell in love with the museums and art scene in Prague when I was here in grad school on a summer ’19 NYU GRI Fellowship. I was a little surprised at the lack of consistent accommodations as well as the attitudes towards disabled museum visitors. At the same time, there was some great access work being done at the National Gallery of Prague and I even stumbled across fantastic disability friendly spaces like the Museum of Prague. I wanted to scratch the surface even further, and so began my extensive Fulbright application process.
I went to the Fulbright information session which NYU holds in the spring every year. There was a representative from NYU Global Studies and a rep form IIE. Now, mind you, these folks are EXPERTS, they have all the info any student would need to know about Fulbright. So, of course I asked the question, “What resources are available to disabled Fulbrighters?”. These reps told me that there wasn’t any resources to help us once we got to our host country. Woops! They were WRONG. I did a quick Google search and found that IIE and mobility International work together to assist disabled Fulbrighters. There was a loooot of support available. Of course, I sent them a ton of info on this and met with the fellow from Global Studies about ways to include disability in the outreach portion of what they do. I was told that I was the “first(self-identified) disabled applicant” they had seen in 20 years. I’m thinking, “Yeah, if you’re not making it seem like a viable option, why would you have?”. My father always taught me to ask questions, even when it made your armpits sweat, and to push past people’s bologna in order to get what you want. It used to make me cringe when I was a child, but what he instilled in me has gotten me to the White House, NYU and right here, in a spiffy Czech café. .
Isn’t It Ironic, Dontcha Think?
Me receiving an award for “Groundbreaking Disability Studies Research” from my buddy nYU President Hamilton(no relation to Alexander). The arts are my jam! image Description: An older gentlemen handing me a small glass rectangle and me wearing a broad grin and red cardigan, shaking his hand and receiving the award
I’m not particularly good at writing or setting up online platforms like this…I have insulted my computer repeatedly throughout this process. I’ve always expressed myself through art instead. That’s a big part of why I do the advocacy work that I do. The not being able to see what I’m writing has something to do with it but more than anything, I just don’t think I have much to offer in the way of writing. I’m not a “writer” I’m an “artist” and never the twain shall meet. I can’t start writing at 40 yrs. old, can I? Is that even allowed? Putting myself out there? At least if someone things my art work is crap, they probably won’t come up to me at an art exhibit and tell me so…probably. That’s all to say, be gentle, I’m doing this because I think the world needs more info like this.
I’m moving halfway across the world, leaving my support system and comfort of most of my community’s understanding of the ADA. Sure, not everyone really adheres to it but there is at least the viable option for me at the post office to say, “You HAVE to help me, it’s the law!”. That’s not so much an option here in the Czech Republic. They are currently working on stronger policies which are meant to help protect the rights of disabled people here. I’m not sure what to expect once I dig a little deeper into the fabric of education, the arts and other bureaucratic institutions.
So far, I’ve been comforted by the helpfulness of people when they see me wandering aimlessly. While being comforted, I have to also question what it means to be an uber independent women living with low vision, who while in New York would shout, “Hands off!” when men grab her to “help” her through the perpetual construction. While I am living more independently than I ever have, I am more reliant on the kindness of strangers than ever here. These are the kind of thoughts I’ve been having and I thought some of you may find them interesting. Maybe? I’m also preparing myself for the inevitable shift in this blog which will probably happen once I start to get into a groove. This gal is curious to see where this blog and Fulbright takes me.
The Wind Beneath My Wings
Photo taken at my going away party before we danced to the B52’s “Love Shack”. Image Description: Me, surrounded by many smiling friends.
I’m also a big believer in gratitude and interdependence as a healthy tool which helps people move forward. My father, brother, sisters and mother who has passed are the wacky textured, mosaic which I have built my career on. My chosen family, my friends have always encouraged me to be a weirdo, an artist, a live action cartoon and sometimes they’ve also given me that reality check I needed. Friends and family have looked over their share of my applications, paperwork to ensure my acceptance to NYU wouldn’t leave me in the fetal position on the couch. Going to grad school at NYU, I thought it would be this cold and competitive experience, and while I felt this at some points of my experience, I mostly came away from it feeling all the good feels. My Jedi master, Obi Faye Kenobi or as some others know her, Faye Ginsburg, showed me a world of academia that could be warm, welcoming and even fun! Her committee meetings ARE the best! My dear art community in Jersey City, you have nurtured me into this person, and I wouldn’t have this life if it had the privilege to immerse myself in it. Art gave me the opportunities to hone my skills in community organizing and grassroots lobbying which has led to so much more. My in-laws, till you welcomed me into your lives, I never thought I could shed all those heavy hang ups about being judged. These people just keep loving me and encouraging me, still getting used to it! Then, the guy who puts my toothpaste on my toothbrush every night, or at least he did until HE left ME here to back and work in the states. You know what? I had serious doubts about leaving for this thing. I wanted it sooo bad, but then when I got it, I was terrified. Mike would face the greatest emotional toll with me leaving, but he not once faltered in pushing me to do the Fulbright. He came out for the first week to help me get settled, and made everything feel more normal. I have an apple he bought, and I’ve been hesitant to eat it…who’s on board with keeping sentimental fruit? That’s real love right there.
Mike and I on the Charles Bridge in Prague. What I wouldn’t give to feel those whiskers right now! Image description: Miek, a tall white man wearing a blue shirt and glasses. , and me reaching up to kiss him on the cheek while wearing sixties inspired white framed sunglasses.
Come Back to Collect 2 Cool Points from The Fonz
Woah, two lattes later at my fav new café (Skog Urban Pub) and I got a “latte” done! Heh, heh, I know at least two of you who appreciated that. Thank you for joining me in this little jaunt through figuring out blogging, getting over my fear of writing and the whole complete uprooting of everything I’ve ever known. Will I make it? How many more puns should you expect? Will they all be food related? The next serving of this blog business will include the joys of TSA while disabled, how Mike and I didn’t kill each other after traveling together for over 24 hrs. and making homesickness funny.