Podcast

Episode 57: Rynita McGuire

Chris and Jill are joined by friend, DJ, artist, and activist Rynita Shephard on this My Dearest Friends Project podcast episode.

Black and white charcoal drawing of Rynita at her turntable with Rynita McGuire written in a white thought bubble in the upper right corner

Interview Date | May 21, 2020

JILL: Welcome to the DisTopia podcast, where we look at disability from the inside out. [peaceful music fades in] My name is Jill Vyn, and I’m the cohost of this podcast with my friend and colleague, Chris Smit. 

What you are listening to now is the first of two interrelated components of our My Dearest Friends project, both of which have been generously underwritten by the Ford Foundation. The My Dearest Friends podcast, which is produced by DisTopia, is a series of recorded conversations with disabled people about their individual experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the personal, cultural, and political alterations it has triggered. These informal conversations give our guests the opportunity to share personal experiences of sheltering in place and to engage in conversations around deeper questions raised about the value of disabled people, the core values of the disability culture, as well as our hopes, fears, and strategies for living an authentic and pride-filled disabled life.

The second component of the My Dearest Friends project is created in partnership with disabled artist Oaklee Thiele, who is creating black and white illustrations that represent our collective response to our new and uncertain realities as a disabled community. Designed as an open invitation to the disabled community around the world, we invite all of you to participate. More information can be found on Instagram @MyDearestFriendsProject, Facebook, and on our website, DisArtNow.org.

As is true for many of you, our desire for this project is to share our experiences as a disabled community, to disrupt ableist beliefs, to celebrate a culture whose lived experience of disability necessitates flexibility and creativity, and to validate disabled voices and perspectives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[peaceful music slowly fades into trip hop music that plays for the first few sentences]

RYNITA: My name is Rynita McGuire, also known as DJ Short-e. I’m from Kalamazoo. I have an MFA in drawing, and I’ve also been an electronic music DJ for the last 20 years. I do digital and traditional medium artwork that specifically has a lot to do with disability theory and the disability perspective. But I also do a lot of commercial work for businesses and organizations throughout the United States. I’ve been a graphic designer for the last 15 years. To view my fine artwork and soon my graphic design work, you can check me out at Rynita.MyPortfolio.com. That’s r y n i t a dot my portfolio.com.

I also am a proud, disabled woman. I’ve been disabled my entire life since birth, a condition called arthrogryposis. It limits the range of motion in my joints in my arms and legs. I’ve used my mouth for pretty much everything my entire life. I was married, but I’m going through a divorce ‘cause COVID has made things really hard on everyone, I guess. Throughout my life, I’ve done everything from cooking to cleaning to taking care of kids, everything despite what people think I might not be able to do.

I’ve had a hard time wrapping my mind around everything that’s going on. Like one day I’ll feel like I have a handle on things, and then the next day it’s all up in the air. I really I feel like sometimes it’s easier because everything’s like delivery and coming to me and stuff that was really hard for me to access before. Now it’s accessible to everyone. And I’ve always said that the more advanced technology gets, the more, in my mind, lazy able-bodied people get, the more accessible it becomes for the rest of us because it becomes more mainstream. And that’s been kinda neat to watch the last 10 years of my life. Equipment that I’ve needed to get through school and stuff used to cost a lotta money because it was specifically for people with disabilities. But now everything is voice-activated, and everything is easy touch and instant access. So, for the most part, things have been getting easier for me along the way.

But it’s been interesting to see, in the shelter-in-place, how much more access has been granted to everyone. And I completely understand the disabled community’s frustration with that as well, because we’ve been fighting for this stuff our whole lives. Like when my legs were broken and I was in school, I’m like, “Can I just video chat in and stuff,” it was recommended to me that I just drop the semester. And then I had to reapply to school and all kinds of stuff. And now, everybody’s going to school online. Which that would’ve been great for me. I wouldn’t have had to stay a whole extra year.

My motivation has been really fluxed back and forth. My anxiety has been fluxed back and forth. I feel like ableism has always been present, but since COVID, it is really, really present. And it just seems to have no filter at all. I see a lot of people through media streams on Facebook and other social media outlets that are just like, “Let the sick and the weak stay home. Let us go back to living our lives.” And I’m like, that’s ridiculous. For one, you’re still putting us in jeopardy because people have to come in and out of our homes. So, you’re exposing them; you’re exposing me. And not just the sick and the weak are being affected by this. They were misinformed of that in the beginning, and they’re all blaming it on us why they’re stuck there. But it’s not just us, and it’s not fair. I’ve had people just stop talking to me altogether just because they’re angry that they’re in that position, and they feel like me and people like me are the reason.

JILL: I really wanna talk about the COVID, and there’s anger and there’s hurt and there’s a lot of emotion there. But I would love, before we get into that, go back to you just talking about your art and what you’re working on.

[trip hop music break]

RYNITA: Well, I started out just always doing art. Like my sisters would be in dance and ballet and stuff growing up, and I was always an art. Starting at six years old, I was taking classes at K.I.A. and stuff. I always just did art to maybe bridge the gap between me and everybody else, find a way to have a commonality with my peers, even draw little things for boys I had crushes on, stuff like that, when I was growing up. And then as I got older, I started to realize that there are a lot of injustices and things that I’ve kind of stuffed down and dealt with because I always felt like I guess the medical model of disability telling me that my issue is my body and my diagnosis and that my mission is to try to normalize myself as much as possible to blend in with society. And then I learned a lot more about disability theory. And what really it’s about, it’s about access and community and things like that that have nothing to do with my medical condition.

And I started to be able to branch my art out in ways where I just expressed, oh, how do I put it, I guess just all the things that have ever gone on with me, all the things that needed to be said about us being people, for the most part, human beings, not just mobility devices or objectified inspiration images. But actual people with same kind of problems that other people have just as much as other problems. I started to do work on access and attitudes and things like that in kind of a surrealistic way because I was slowly allowing myself to identify as a disabled person. And then I just went full steam ahead and started to work with groups of women, specifically, for a long time around the country who have disabilities, who have issues with being women and being disabled and kind of being forgot about in feminism and forgot about in a lot of aspects of life.

It seems to me that people with disabilities, our issues are always the last to be thought of. So, you look at all these marginalized groups, and then at the bottom of the list is people with disabilities. Like, everybody’s fighting for all these rights, and we are, too. But we seem to get noticed a lot less. And my work has started to sometimes be a little bit controversial, but really start to raise awareness and start conversations where people start to see the commonality between us all in one respect and the things that need to be said, but in a way that I think is exciting and approachable and interesting to start conversations. So, a lot of my work for a long time has been specifically designed around women with disabilities. But I’m starting to actually get into masculinity and what that means and how that translates to men with physical limitations and how they struggle to compete in a world where they feel they have to be providers and protectors and things like that.

I’m also working with Leroy, and I’m doing a painting pretty soon on the elements of Hip-Hop but focusing all on Hip-Hop artists who have physical disabilities, MCs, DJs, graffiti artists, and break dancers. So, that’s really cool. I just got commissioned for that. And now I’m starting to see—and I guess an artist has too many visions. So, now I have to list these all and come back to them and not forget them—but I’m starting to see with the COVID thing that there is this huge imbalance happening again. All this work that we have put forth in the last 25 or so years since the ADA has started to take a big step back for people with disabilities and people of different racial minorities as well. They’re really getting hit hard right now, where I felt the world was really coming to a better place. So, some of my work is going to start involving mass attacks against the attacks on us, I guess.

I’m setting up a new space. I’m trying to get my brain back together so that I can get this work done and stuff. But I’ve had so much happen in the last couple of months that it has just given me tons of work that I need to spread out and start doing. I’m also concerned as an academic with the COVID hitting colleges as hard as it has and me just getting my degree, that it’s gonna be really hard to break into the job field as far as academia, because I’m not sure how colleges are gonna survive all this, what it’s gonna look like after this, if it’s gonna be all online, if they’re gonna lose more students when they were already having a problem with enrollment, and what that’s gonna mean for new hires. So, professionally, I have a lot of anxiety about what that means for all that work I’ve put in to achieve that position and whether or not those positions will even be available for quite some time.

So, yeah, I guess a lot of emotions. Good ones. Bad ones. Happy ones. Important ones. I have a lot of things I wanna say, and I’m hoping that it comes out in the artwork the way it is in my mind, ‘cause that’s always a struggle. Or maybe it’ll come out in a different way than I expected, and it’ll be perfect. So, I guess I’m just trying to get those ideas out and see where they go.

JILL: As I listen to you, I’m wondering if you feel a sense of urgency for the work that you’re doing.

RYNITA: Sort of I do, but sort of I don’t. I was talking to a professor of mine who called me and knows that I’ve been going through a lot personally. And I was like, “Everybody’s like, you need to do work. You need to the more work. It’ll help you feel better.” And she’s like, “No, you need to process all of this first. And you need to really sit back and do what you gotta do to come to a place where the work comes out naturally. You’re gonna force it.” So, I took a good month and a half to really just process and put these things together and kind of understand how they work for me and how they should work for me. And I’m just starting to get to a place where I feel like I need to at least start trying to create some of it. But I don’t wanna pressure myself to hit every milestone that my mind has set for myself, because then I’m gonna set myself up to be overwhelmed and possibly not be able to achieve what I want.

So, I’m really glad that Deb Rockman—you probably met her—she reached out to me and talked to me for a couple hours and really just helped me put it all in perspective where I think I can get a handle on it now, slowly, but to not put so much expectation on myself, because I don’t wanna disappoint myself at all. I mean, I want this to come out good for everyone, especially me. But I’ve spent the last couple of weeks cleaning out my space and organizing all my materials. And I think I’m getting to a place where I really think I can start putting some good work down. Where that’ll happen or how much that’ll happen right away, I guess I don’t wanna predict, because every day is different for all of us. One day I feel great, and the next day I’m like, wow, this is crazy, and I’m so lost. So, just getting through it and doing it when I can. But I think in the end, I have a lot to say, and I feel like it will be said in its time when it’s right.

JILL: That seems like a really healthy way to approach your work. And Chris and I talk a lot how we’ll bee go, go, go, go, go. And then the downtime is when things start to come together, in that processing time.

RYNITA: Mmhmm.

JILL: I’m so glad that you took that time.

RYNITA: Parts of who I am will always be there. They’re inherent in my nature and my personality. But my life is changing, and I’m finding out who the new me is. Some of it’s kind of great, too. Like a lot of things I don’t feel like I was really supported on in my marriage and in that situation, I now have the freedom to do without worrying about whether or not I’m supported. And I can just rely on myself. I can make my own schedule. I can do what I want. So, some of it is kind of freeing, and some of it is kind of daunting. But I think it’s starting to come around.

JILL: That’s good to hear. I’m happy that you’re getting to this place.

[trip hop music break]

JILL: You mentioned COVID in part of that process. It seems like it’s impacted you. Like there’s the outward, what people are saying and the anger that you have. Are there bright parts?

RYNITA: The brightest part of all of this is when you need to just sit home and process and deal with some heavy stuff, the whole world is doing that right now. So, I don’t seem like the sad girl home alone, ‘cause everybody’s kind of home alone. And I don’t feel the pressure of needing to go out and hit the world and do this and do that. I can really just start to take some of this time to reevaluate myself and my views and my new situation. And by the time hopefully this all opens up, I’ll be in a better place mentally, physically, all the way around, hopefully a little more optimistic by then. It has also really drawn my attention to a lot of things that were just kind of more muted in the background that’ve seemed much louder and much more in my face. And I think that has inspired my mental strategies for art in a lot of ways. It has caused me to want to, I don’t know, deal with a lot of issues that I don’t think were as present to me as they are now.

JILL: We’ve all taken a moment to reflect and pause. So, as we’ve been doing these interviews, we’ve kind of gone through transitions. And one of the more recent conversations that we’ve been having are the observation that non-disabled people will get back into the world, the public world, faster than disabled people. And the feelings, people have, some have strong feelings, some, you know, mixed. But I’m wondering if you’ve thought about that process and what it means for you.

RYNITA: So, part of me wants to get back in the world really bad, because when you go through where you lose a lot, you kinda need community. And I kinda wanna be around like-minded people or to go out or to have that support. But part of me does not wanna jump right back into it when everybody else does. Because I’m not sure that they’re ready, and I still need to protect myself physically, because I fall into the category of someone who may or may not be able to handle it if I do get sick. And it’s not gonna be gone yet. So, I’m really mixed about it. Like, I can’t wait to be around my friends and to just hash it all out with them, you know, over a pint or something. But in the other respect, I want my friends to be OK, and I want myself to be OK. So, I’m not sure that I’m gonna jump right back into the world as fast as they are, because I wanna see what happens first.

JILL: And with that, for some people, it’s a reminder or it can be a visceral experience of being left behind.

RYNITA: Yeah.

JILL: Is that something that you’ve thought about in terms of disability as a community or for yourself personally?

RYNITA: I think as a community, a lotta people are gonna feel pretty left behind because they need to be more careful of viruses and things that could really affect them, including myself. But on the other respect, I also personally have been type of person that as soon as I feel left behind, I fight really hard to not be left behind. So, I don’t think personally I will be left behind too much, but I worry about the community as a whole. But again, that also worries me that if I do feel left behind and I try to jump back into things before it’s a good idea because I don’t wanna feel left behind, am I putting myself at risk? Sometimes I feel like my pride and my stubbornness is my biggest asset and also my worst asset. It can cause me to get myself in situations that aren’t great for me. In the end, the big result, it usually causes me to raise hell in ways that it needs to be raised. So, hopefully, I end up healthy and OK and don’t make crazy decisions when I see the whole world getting back into it. And I’m not, I guess we’ll just see.

Another good thing this has caused for me or happened for me during this is that I’ve gotten back into my music. I was a professional DJ for, I have been, for 20 years, and I didn’t play as much with the kids and the husband and college and everything happening. But I’m home all the time now. And when I found music and I found the electronic music scene and the community, I found a big support system that really helped me through a really dark time in my life. And now that I’m going through another really dark time of my life, I was like, let me get my music out, because I know that makes me feel better. And I’ve been connecting with all of those people growing up that’ve always been there for me, and that has been really great. It’s been really therapeutic. It’s been really helpful.

The DJ community, because of COVID, has been really hit hard by this because they can’t perform, because there can’t be crowds. So, we’ve all been playing live streams for people. And so, I’ve gotten to play and they’ve gotten to play from home, and everybody’s gotten to see us. And we have a pretty captive audience because everybody’s kinda stuck with nothing to do. And they’re like, oh, I’m gonna check this person out. So, I’ve gotten to get myself back out there musically while everybody’s around paying attention. That’s been pretty cool, too.

I do hope that some of the things that’ve come from this, like virtual concerts and stuff, will be something that happens in the future. Because I’ve gotten to see some really great bands in ways that were much more accessible to me than they were in a crowd when I’m the shortest person there. And the same in the DJ world too. I’ve really gotten to watch a lotta cool DJs battle from acrost the globe, one on one side and one on the other, and all kinds of cool stuff that I hope becomes a part of our future. Because it does make music and arts and gatherings, I think, a lot more accessible to the disabled community. But it also makes it more accessible to a lotta people who just can’t afford to get to those things or don’t have access to those things or live far away. On St. Patrick’s Day, I watched the Dropkick Murphys do the first live stream concert before anybody did them. And there was like a million people from around the globe that got to experience it and chat with each other and get to know each other and find commonality for this music. And for the first time since it all started and everybody’s fears, we kind of forgot about it for a night and just kind of partied and hung out with each other and watched this band do this amazing show for everyone because theirs got canceled. I hope that that’s something that continues.

Virtual art shows have been really amazing to check out. Galleries in France and stuff that I just have never had the access to get to have been right here a click away. And I really hope that this kind of stuff keeps happening. And I hope that if it doesn’t, that we find a way to lobby for it to happen, because I think, especially for the disabled community, it’s just been great to have all that access.

JILL: Yeah, for sure.

[trip hop music break]

JILL: So, let’s dive into what types of things are you posting about on your social media platforms? What are you paying attention to in the news? What are your reactions to that?

RYNITA: OK. I’ve been posting a little bit about especially, I guess, people with disabilities in institutions and how hard they’ve been getting hit, because nursing homes and stuff have been getting hit so hard. And how it’s always been a deep fear of mine that anybody with a disability can have all of their rights taken away and be put in an institution if somebody thinks that they’re not being taken care of or they can’t handle their own life. And I think it’s something that needs to be changed. These people need to live in their community, seriously. So, I’ve been posting a lot of that. Eugenics has been a really big deal for me. Worrying that if I get sick or someone with a disability gets sick and we go to the hospital, if the hospital is overtaxed or if they think that our life is not as important as an able-bodied person’s life, will we get the help to be treated for the condition, or will we be left to die? That’s been a huge scare for all of us.

I don’t know if you guys know Jane Hash and Bethany Stevens. They’re pretty good friends of mine, and they’re also very vocal and controversial like I am, so I think that’s how we mesh really well. But they’ve been doing a lot of posts that have been inspiring me to do a lot of posts just on how they’re dealing and people with disability loving each other and not feeling too discouraged and really supporting each other and raising their voice on how unfair it is that all of a sudden, our lives seem to be non-consequential, not important at all.

The protests and stuff have been really quite ridiculous and really aiming and pointing a lot at us and really putting a lot of fear into the government and everyone. If you want us to be able to open up, then showing up and waving guns and being jerks about it is the last thing that is gonna get us to open up. It’s making us look extremely irresponsible. It’s causing a lot of people to be exposed, which will come back to people who are more vulnerable. So, I guess I’ve been posting a lot on that. The protests, disability community, how they’re banding together to help each other, which I think has been pretty great.

There’s a few of the institutions where some of the people with disabilities that’ve lived there have actually volunteered to help and put out care packages for people with COVID and stuff like that. I do think it’s been a really great way for us to show our strengths in a way. Because we’ve always been able to contribute, even if we have not been given credit to do that. And now that everybody’s kind of in the same position, we’ve been able to be like, “Hey, we’re here helping too, you know. We’re valuable, too.” And I don’t know if that’s partially caused by people thinking that we may or may not be valuable and needing to show that or just who we are in general and wanting to be independent and part of the community and always fighting for those things. But it has been great to see how much support we’ve given non-disabled people and other disabled people.

I’ve done a lot of posts about dealing with divorce or getting over a lotta crap too or realizing my own self-worth. Which I think some of it has to do with divorce, but some of it just has to do with the state of the world as well. I didn’t realize how seriously of ableist-ly, unbalanced relationship I was in until it was over. It was a mind mixer for a little while. It kind of messed me up for a little while to realize that I’ve been advocating for equality for women with disabilities all this time, and yet I’ve been getting knocked down just as hard as I’ve been raising others up. And what does that mean for my art and my voice? And how is that going to translate in my future doings in the world? I think it’s definitely lit a different fire under me, and it’s definitely helped me realize what is not acceptable for me anymore and where I need to be. So, some of my posts have had to do with that, but I think a lot of it, it’s always been part of who I am. I just didn’t realize that I was dealing with it so heavily, because you kinda get used to it or comfortable with it. It’s like every day. So, you don’t realize how terribly injust it is until you get to step back and really look at it.

JILL: You’re strengthening your voice.

RYNITA: Yes. Yes. And I do believe that good or bad situations still cause a strength in you. You’re exercising spiritual muscles when you’re dealing with these things. And hopefully in the end, the product is light, not dark, you know. I find a way to, yeah, keep strengthening myself through all of this. If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger, right?

JILL: Yeah. I always see you as light, in terms of your energy.

RYNITA: [laughs]

JILL: And I’m curious, how much acting do you have to put into your work, your life, you know, in terms of how people talk about fulfilling certain roles as a disabled person?

RYNITA: I do feel that in public I always have to be on. I’m always under a microscope. So, even I think when I was going through some really hard stuff, I never really presented myself with that in public. Like when Deb was talking to me about some of the emotional and physical abuse that I was going through, she was like, “Was that happening the entire time you were in school?” And I was like, “Yeah.” And she was like, “We would never know. You always came in on, with a huge smile on your face.” And it was also great to be there and away from it, too. So, it helped. But I think my whole life, I’ve kind of always had to make other people comfortable with me. So, allowing that vulnerability in me to show is really hard, because I didn’t wanna be judged or sidelined because of it. But now I still will have to always, I think, unless I train myself not to put on some sort of smile to make other people be comfortable with me. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t see that really changing anytime soon. However, I do feel that it has awoken some things in me that I will find ways to express, even if I have a smile on my face when people look at it. [laughs] Everyone that I know with a disability feels like they have to be pretty presentable and pretty professional, because we’re always looked at as not being able to achieve those things. So, if we show darkness or vulnerability, then we’re instantly judged. And yet we still have problems. Everybody does.

[trip hop music break]

JILL: Yeah. Yeah, I’ve also been noticing as you’ve cleaned out your Facebook friends, you know.

RYNITA: Yeah!

JILL: Are you making different choices in who you surround yourself with?

RYNITA: Yeah. I’m definitely surrounding myself with people who get it. And I mean, for a long time, I would leave the people who don’t get it on there because I felt like they needed the message. But at a certain point, I realized with some people I’m just talking to a wall. It’s not sinking through. And I need to be around people who get it and support what I’m saying and what I’m doing to be successful. I mean, I had an overinflated Facebook friends list anyway, because my 20 years of DJing. And I guess a lot of them were people I met for like a second or they saw me on a stage, and I didn’t know how not in the same views as me they really were. And I think it has with the crisis that’s been going on, been a lot more magnified where I might not have seen that in people before. And I’m hoping that they do come out of it in the end. But I’m not gonna continue to argue with somebody about something I know I’m right about.

JILL: Yeah. Yeah, and your art will speak the strongest. And that’s what we’ve been excited about, is to see the art that’s coming out of this period of time.

RYNITA: Yeah.

JILL: And how people are connecting in ways that they haven’t before. And the disability community has weirdly seemed small, [chuckles] but as we get to know people, we’re realizing, oh, it’s really, it is much bigger. There’s so many people doing advocacy work and important work.

RYNITA: And I’ve joined a couple of Facebook groups that are geared towards academics who are part of the disabled community, who do work in disability theory. And what was the other one? It’s just another disability community where there’s people from all around the world talking about their issues and their struggles and legislation and things like that. And it’s been really great to tap into that. I didn’t really even know those Facebook groups existed, but they’ve been pretty amazing. I’ve been teaching people some things, and I’ve been learning so much myself.

RYNITA: I’m also definitely considering possibly a move. I don’t know. I mean, when the world is safe again. I’m not sure where, but I wanna be closer to a network such as DisArt, where I can really tap into those resources and be a more active member.

JILL: Yeah.

RYNITA: Whether it’s Grand Rapids or Atlanta or wherever, somewhere where, even Berkeley, where there is a huge—

JILL: Where there already is a community. Mmhmm.

RYNITA: Yeah. ‘Cause Kalamazoo has very little. There are people here, but I’ve been kind of the voice from my area. And great, but I feel like I wanna be where the action is.

JILL: Mmhmm. Yeah. Well, we would love to have you closer to Grand Rapids.

RYNITA: And I think just the last like five years when my work has taken more of a activist position, I learned so much more about the history and the community and things that I kind of shunned when I was younger, because it was more important that I blended with the able-bodied community than I had friends even in the disabled community or a network at all. I just almost denied myself my identity in a lotta ways because I felt that was expected of me. And now that I’ve embraced it, it’s been really amazing to hear and see all the different viewpoints out there and learn so, so much.

JILL: When was that turning point for you?

RYNITA: My first year at Kendall, strangely, because I was the only disabled student there. So, it’s not like I had community there, really, for the most part. I mean, there were a couple, but I didn’t even realize they had disabilities until later when I got to know them. So, it wasn’t as visibly apparent as it was with me. In grad school, they really encourage you to find a voice that has a lot to do with your life and who you are as a person. And I found a way to stop denying my disability as a part of my identity, especially working with Diane in the Visual Studies program and learning, taking an interest in visual culture and how people with disabilities are represented in visual culture. And learning a lot about our history all the way back from like beggar cards to telethons to freak shows and all that stuff and institutions up until today. It changed my work drastically, just doing that philosophical and theoretical work and writing those research papers and stuff. I went from putting messages of my disability subliminally in my work to really embracing it and finding a voice of who I am as a person. And my disability is part of who I am as a person.

I wanted to go to Kendall my whole life. My high school teacher went to Kendall, and it took me till grad school to finally get there. But the place that I didn’t see a lot of disabilities still tapped me into the disability community. That’s how I found out about you guys, actually. It was through Kendall and Robert Coombs and everybody else. And I was just like, wow! Look at this whole world I haven’t been a part of. It really changed a lot of me. And I think it really brought a lot more of a confidence in me than I had before. I was always trying to hide it or be on or to be what was expected of me. And I found that who I am is what should be expected of me.

JILL: I think that’s a beautiful story and something that I’m so glad that you’re sharing, because what you are sharing is the importance of embracing, embracing yourself.

RYNITA: Yeah.

JILL: Yeah.

RYNITA: Yeah. ‘Cause it doesn’t matter how cute I dress or how cool I am or what funny things I say. I’m not gonna camouflage this wheelchair. It’s part of who I am, and it’s part of what everyone sees. So, it’s time I start letting it be a part of who I am. And it’s been helping quite a bit.

JILL: That’s awesome.

Thank you so much for being willing to chat. I’m curious. Before we wrap up, what have we missed? What is it that you wanna make sure that you share or talk about?

RYNITA: I guess what I think is the most important that people need to understand is that people with disabilities are humans, and we’re just a variation of the human condition. There are short people, tall people, people with different skin colors, people with different eye colors, and people with different physiques, physical abilities, limit—I wouldn’t even say limitations—but different physical presences and how we may have the same abilities as everyone else. We just have to adapt it in a different way. So, humans are humans, and we need to start putting them all on the same level. It’s not fair: the classism, the ableism, the racism, it just needs to stop. We’re all people. And without each other, we have nothing.

JILL: Well said.

Well, thanks for your time, and I’m so glad you’re in a lighter place.

RYNITA: Yeah, getting there. Every day is a little better.

JILL: Thanks for listening. Be well, keep your distance, send us your comments, questions, and your submissions for Oaklee Thiele to hello@DisArtNow.org. Please make sure to follow the My Dearest Friends project on Instagram, Facebook, and DisArtNow.org. And thanks again to the Ford Foundation for their support of this work and to cat enthusiast Cheryl Green for the transcription of this podcast episode.

Music: “Home Sweet Home” by Willbe (Source: FreeMusicArchive.org. Licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.)