In a photo series accompanied by a collection of short narratives, I hope to capture, in individual creative portraits, people with various disabilities in their daily lives. Many of the individuals with whom I’ve spoken and photographed don’t identify as being “disabled”, or rather, don’t feel unable to accomplish anything at all. Some perceive their disabilities to be mere setbacks from which to rise up, while others feel very differently, acknowledging that “can’t” is a hard reality that is dealt and coped with every day. Within this project, each person’s story is different, but all of them valuable to the greater message of humanity. It is with this knowledge that I set out to find more people, willing to be open and vulnerable in their interviews and portrait sessions, creating an awareness around both the collective and individual struggles and successes that our bodies and minds create, and that society either aids or thwarts. It is here that participants and readers alike develop a greater, deeper understanding of one another and a safe community that includes raw honesty from people of all abilities, working together to break down the misperceptions and stereotypes of disabilities and the people who have them.
The Redefining Disabled Project aims to showcase not necessarily the incredibly athletic paralympians, the reality TV beauties, or the amazing, sometimes harrowing feats of the disabled – though their experiences are also valuable within the project’s context – but rather the daily, seemingly small accomplishments of the average person with a disability. I want to celebrate these extraordinary and able individuals not because they exist in this place of disability and difference, as that is often painful and traumatic, but that they do live and thrive every day in this world, in their bodies, though the physical challenges may be great. Here, in this project, our community has a voice that gets louder and stronger the more we come together. This photo series is meant to empower not just people with disabilities, but anybody who has seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the way of their goals. The tone of the project is intended to be serious, determined, honest, yet joyful and hopeful. Together we will redefine the term disabled.
Kim Lan Grout is a writer, photographer, and entrepreneur in Durham, North Carolina. What most people would consider her disability, she considers her liberation; she elected to have her leg amputated at the age of 18 after a very long, painful saga that started with a congenital vascular syndrome called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome. She can now do things post-amputation that were the stuff only her pre-amputation dreams were made of. Having a disability hasn’t held her back from anything, including traveling the world, raising her two toddler daughters, and practicing yoga. It is with this love for life and love for her “broken” body that she seeks to bring her creative project, many years in the making, into fruition in hopes of showing our community and young people like her daughters that disabilities are not the end of one’s life, but rather can be a source of love, tolerance, patience, and determination. Kim Lan spends much of her time writing about and researching her family’s incredible history, pursuing better race relations and women’s rights, regaling anyone who will listen with anecdotes of amputee-dom, and raising her 4-year-old and 2-year-old daughters to be confident, compassionate and happy women – things her disability has taught her.