Center for Media Innovation prepares for Dis/Ability Show & Tell: A Community Symposium

Written By Amanda Andrews, Co-News Editor

On Oct. 22, the Center for Media Innovation (CMI) is hosting a symposium focused on disabled artists, activists and their work from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. 

The event is completely free to the public and to students. Unabridged Press, a frequent partner with the CMI, is holding this event for the first time as part of their project, All-Abilities Media. Unabridged Press is also working in coordination with the university’s Center for Inclusive Excellence along with several other faculty members and administrators to make this event possible. 

“We are very pleased to be hosting this event, and we really hope the Point Park University community comes out and gets behind it,” Andy Conte, Director for the CMI, said. “This could stimulate very meaningful dialogue for everyone connected to the university and with the community.”

The All-Abilities Media project was announced on Unabridged Press’ website in 2017. Founder and producer at Unabridged Press, Jennifer Szweda Jordan, explained how the project and Dis/Ability Show & Tell: A Community Symposium came together. 

“This project grew out of three years of work with the CMI after Unabridged Press began focusing on coverage of disability issues, with an intention to include people with disabilities in host interviewers, and in production of podcasts, video content, written work—and soon ad/sponsorship sales,” Szweda Jordan said. “We also welcome people who do not identify as disabled to participate. This creates an integrated and inclusive opportunity to create strong content in this sector.”

Szweda Jordan said that the partnership between the CMI and Unabridged Press has been key in the success of the All-Abilities Project. 

“Andy and the CMI, in conjunction with the development department led by Kristin DeLuca, have worked with us to secure $90,000 in grant funding this year for workshops, production and distribution, and events like the symposium,” Szweda Jordan said. “Workshops continue through 2020, and we are seeking additional funding for more production and professional development of our participants so that they can have more of a voice in leading this project.”

Unabridged Press also partnered with the university’s Center for Inclusive Excellence. Jayme Kerr, the Coordinator for Inclusive Excellence, said that over the summer she worked with two of the event’s organizers, Szweda Jordan and Stacey Federoff, a graduate assistant at the CMI. 

“We were kind of bouncing off ideas and we thought it would be a good idea to reach out not only to students, but the community in general,” Kerr said. “A symposium I think is a way of working it so everyone feels like it is a more open space and less of an intimidating space, and that’s been good.”

Federoff said that two Point Park theater students are speaking at the Dis/Ability Symposium as well as Alicia DiGiorgi of the Pittsburgh Playhouse Accessibility and Inclusion Committee. The featured speaker is Point Park alumnus Brian Rutherford, a costume designer formerly employed at Walt Disney World. Rutherford lost the majority of his sight after a series of strokes but continues to work in his desired profession. 

“…one in five people have a disability, so this human condition is simply a part of life that affects all of us in one way or another, particularly as we age and lose some function. Many of our loved ones (in society) have a disability or will,” Szweda Jordan said. 

Besides speakers, the symposium will showcase art, research and choreography about disabilities. The submission to be included in the showcase is available through tomorrow, Oct. 10. As of Monday, Unabridged Press was working on fixing issues with the link to submit submissions. In the meantime, Federoff said that anyone interested in sending in their work or speaking at the event cancontact Federoff at her Point Park email.  

Kerr and Szweda Jordan said that the event creates an opportunity for students and the Pittsburgh community to speak about their experiences with disabilities in an informal, comfortable setting.

“Students always say, and it’s disheartening, that they aren’t sure if their story counts or if it is enough of a disability, but it’s their story and their experience, so absolutely it’s enough to speak on,” Kerr said. 

“Coverage like this can educate people about the lost human potential when we marginalize people with disabilities,” Szweda Jordan said. “Well-being increases for people with disabilities—and for us all—as they are more active and integrated in the community.”