One in four adults in the U.S. are living with a disability, but you wouldn't know it given the lack of representation in the workforce, Hollywood, and media coverage. On the 30th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, Voices of Disability celebrates the real stories — not the stigmas or stereotypes — of this dynamic and vibrant community of individuals.
Disabled: adjective. impaired or limited by a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition : affected by disability.
Woman: noun. An adult female person.
(Source: Merriam Webster)
My name is Lindsay Adams, I am a disabled, Black woman, artist, strategist, champion, and friend. I can lead with that now that in my nearly 30 years, I’ve become comfortable with this skin I'm in — embracing its challenges and peculiarities, while leaning into its preciousness.
Over time, I’ve realized my identity is multifaceted and intersectional. No one part of me is separate from the other. Each one comes with its difficulties, but the beauty always wins. Being disabled has shown me how strong and resilient I can be, while also reminding me of the importance of kindness. Being a Black woman has taught me fortitude, focus, and courage, and shown me the love of sisterhood and connection. Being a disabled, Black woman has taught me patience and perseverance. While in many ways, it has forced me to leverage my tenacity and strength, even when things get particularly challenging.
I’ve had Cerebral Palsy (CP), a disorder that adversely affects movements and one’s ability to maintain balance and posture, since I was born — two months early, weighing 2 lbs 12 oz. And although my CP is very much a part of me, it’s not immediately visible to others. My personal case has caused a semi-severe speech impediment. I say semi-severe, because it depends on who you ask, and the level of stress I’m under on a particular day. Some days, I sound clear as a whistle, other days are more of a challenge. I have delays in my fine motor skills, and seemingly simple things like putting on jewelry and doing my own hair don't always translate well (which can be quite frustrating when I'm trying to put together a look). I’ve found ways to adapt, mainly out of survival. I’ve learned new things each day about my specific needs or challenges as I navigate adulthood. But growing up, I tried my best to hide behind the things about me that shined. My disability seemed to be something I could hide — except that wasn't the case at all.
I was academically gifted, creative, and personable. I don't think I realized how much CP had affected my outlook on life until I wrote about it in a series of personal essays for a high school English class. I thought about all of the stumbles, the cuts and bruises and the falls. I recalled the many times I had to repeat myself, or spell things out for someone to understand what I was saying. I acknowledged the anxiety I would feel each time I entered a room, where I would have to speak up or introduce myself out of fear of how someone would look at me or stare, trying to figure out why I sounded like this. Now in my maturity, I realize that there was space for it all.
Though I’ve had CP my entire life, I didn’t say the words out loud until I was in my early twenties. I don't think I even noticed I was doing it until I was talking to some people who knew me best, but they didn’t know I had it.
After college, as I entered the workforce, I wasn’t sure where or how my disability would place me. I wasn’t always aware of what accommodations or support I needed. As I discovered myself and unpacked my challenges, I also began to unpack my privilege. I knew that people couldn’t tell that I was disabled by looking at me (which is the case for many people with invisible conditions or challenges). I had the option to speak up about my CP, or only reference the speech impediment and premature birth when asked. I thought it created an ease and simplicity in spaces where I didn’t have to explain myself. I quickly learned that it did not do any of these things. I was only hurting myself by not embracing all parts of me. By not giving myself grace and space to be my full and authentic self, I put unrealistic pressures on myself, and I suffered many inner battles of ableism, anxiety, and depression.
Though I don't owe anyone an explanation about why or how I am the way I am, I have found it freeing to share. I learn so much and am able to encourage others while sharing my story. The disability I never wanted has brought me gifts and blessings far bigger than I could have ever imagined. My disabled hands produce some of the most thrilling color stories and figures. And my voice, though muffled, has allowed me to speak up for not only myself, but the communities I am a part of.
My art has been a consistent and therapeutic release for me since a very young age. When I felt misunderstood or alone, I turned to my canvas to release. Communication is not just one thing, and I think I’ve been able to effectively express that through my various choice of mediums. I knew I was drawn to drawing and painting at an early age, and every change I got, I would dig a little deeper and try something new. In some of my darkest and most isolating moments, my sketchbooks provided me solace. It was an area of my life where I had complete control.
Between my natural talent and the diligent skill I developed, I turned to my art each time. As soon as I could, I declared myself a Drawing and Painting Major in high school. When deciding to pursue International Studies at the University of Richmond, I wouldn’t let art escape me, and I earned a Studio Art Minor. When I studied abroad in Spain, I captured scenery, figures, and experiences in my sketchbooks. When I started working in consulting right after graduating, I quickly realized that I needed art then, too.
Adulthood has come with its struggles, its lessons, its heartaches, and its triumphs, and my art has been with me and a part of me every time. When I have tried to run away from my art, or neglected it in some seasons of my life, it has found me. Art has equally nurtured me, as I have nurtured it. My art is both my peace and my protest. It is my grounding and my uplift. It is my voice and my vice. Some of my most freeing moments have come from starting a sketch of a flower. It is truly serendipitous for a person with fine motor skill delay to twirl the paint brush the way I can. I am forever grateful to have such a gift and be able to share it with others.
The things that make us different bring us closer together. They give us space to learn, change our minds, and be better versions of ourselves. If I could go back to my younger self, and give her a hug, I’d say: Being a Black woman is going to get harder before it gets easier, and being a disabled Black woman is going to come with a lot of crap you didn't ask for. Be true to yourself, be patient and kind to yourself and others, and when in doubt, remember you can always be you — freely.
Over time, I’ve realized how every aspect of my life has ultimately helped me create my own definition of who I am:
Lindsay: Human. Complex, varied, able, adaptive, beautiful in composition, rare, and capable. (source: myself)