If you walked through the Diag yesterday, you probably saw a bunch of adorable golden retrievers.
However, these dogs were more than just cute pets — they were service dogs, providing assistance and therapy to people with disabilities.
The dogs were part of a demonstration for the annual Investing in Ability Week, now in its 19th year, sponsored by the University’s Council for Disability Concerns. The program seeks to promote campus awareness about disability issues.
This year’s program is themed “Art and Abilities.” It began on Oct. 19 and will continue through Oct. 31.
Anna Ercoli Schnitzer, a librarian who specializes in disability-related content at the Taubman Medical Library and Health Sciences Libraries, serves on the council and helped plan the week-long event.
Schnitzer explained that the council works to level the playing field for people with physical or emotional challenges. Its work includes examining blueprints of University buildings to ensure they meet accessibility standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as advocating for students, faculty and staff with disabilities.
Ability Week, Schnitzer said, is the one time in the year when the council can promote its message to a broader audience.
“We kind of focus on events that are open to everybody to get people of all backgrounds and interests to come,” Schnitzer said.
Schnitzer said the council selected several speakers who have channeled their disabilities into artistic presentations.
She spoke of Sadie Wilcox, an artist who was badly burned in a domestic violence incident and decided to tackle her experience through art.
“Instead of just saying, ‘This is the end of my life because this terrible thing happened,’ (Wilcox) made a positive thing out of it,” Schnitzer said.
Wilcox has two presentations scheduled for today in the Ability Week event calendar. During the first, she will specifically address creating art while recovering from traumatic burns and violence.
Sadashi Inuzuka is another artist who overcame adversity and will be speaking throughout the week. Inuzuka, an art professor at the University’s School of Art & Design, has faced significant visual impairment since birth.
Inuzuka said he first considered becoming an artist when he was three, but that his condition prevented him from pursuing it.
At age 30, he moved from Japan to North America where he finally discovered a medium that he could work with under his condition — clay.
“Because I have a visual impairment, I really depend on touch,” Inuzuka said.
While Inuzuka has created multimedia artistic presentations for some time now, he said he did not feel comfortable acknowledging his disability in his work for a long time.
“I didn’t want people to label me as an artist with a disability. I just wanted to be an artist,” Inuzuka said.
However, Inuzuka said he recently started considering how his disability affected his work, or “how I do what I do.” And after some reflection, he said, he came away with a more positive outlook.
“Because of my condition, I think differently and I see things differently,” Inuzuka said. “I think my ‘disability’ is actually an ability.”
Consequently, he said his work is changing to focus more on disability issues.
Inuzuka will discuss his personal artistic journey during a presentation tomorrow, and on Saturday he will lead a clay workshop for children.
He said he’s confident art can help bridge the gap between students with disabilities and those without, and encourages students to attend the presentations to gain understanding of a perspective different from their own.
Schnitzer said she hopes the presentations will diminish common preconceived notions about people with disabilities.
“Some people might say, ‘Oh this person is disabled and can’t do anything,’” Schnitzer said. “That’s not true at all. We’re plucking the art from the disability.”