Lavaun Heaster and Cheryl Green record a conversation for the Disability Visibility Project™ at StoryCorps San Francisco on April 22, 2015. In this clip, Lavaun and Cheryl talk about common stereotypes about disability, the invisibility of learning disabilities, and art and disability.
Cheryl Green: The only disability is a bad attitude.
Cheryl Green: I love Stella Young’s response, “No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs ever turned it into a ramp.” My name is Cheryl Green. I’m 40 years old. Today is April 22, 2015 and we’re in the San Francisco Public Library at StoryCorps
Lavaun Heaster: Hi, my name is Lavaun Heaster. Also known as Lavaun Benavidez-Heaster according to what I feel like any given day. I have known Cheryl for about 3 years. We met through the Display Arts & Culture Project when we’re planning a fundraising event. And, she helped me paint my [laughter] bathroom. Where she painted her hair, I painted her arm. I painted my arms, my feet, my hands, my tee-shirt and many other things because it’s kind of entertaining to have someone [laughing] who’s legally blind painting, when someone else do that without peripheral vision.
Cheryl Green: I would also like to add that you did paint the walls as well. Both of us did some painting of walls in the middle of all of that.
Lavaun Heaster: Yeah they’re done now.
Cheryl Green: Yeah [laughter]
Lavaun Heaster: Lovely orchid.
Cheryl Green: Is that the color? I thought it was mauve? Is that similar to…
Lavaun Heaster: It’s a mauvy-orchid.
Cheryl Green: [laughter]
Lavaun Heaster: I don’t know! I’m legally blind, why do you expect me to know what the color is:
Cheryl Green: Because you’re a visual person. You’re a visual artist and you…
Lavaun Heaster: I know, I’m teasing.
Cheryl Green: Oh, and I don’t get jokes because my brain injury aahhh!
Lavaun Heaster: [laughter]
[Music fades in and out]
Cheryl Green: I consider myself a disability artist both because I’m disabled and because my art and my activism focus on disability experiences and disability culture. And you, Lavaun, you have disabilities as well but you don’t actually call yourself a disability artist, right?
Lavaun Heaster: No. I consider myself an artist. I am an artist that happens to have disabilities but I don’t want people looking at my art and seeing my disability and then going, “Oh my gosh, someone who’s legally blind did that?” I do have a disability, and I am fine with just, going out and saying, yeah, ‘I’m legally blind!’ But I don’t — that’s not my focus, because I don’t want people buying from that ‘poor crippled person’ who is, you know, inspiring the world with her art.
Cheryl Green: ‘Her special art.’
Lavaun Heaster: ‘Oh so special!’
Cheryl Green: ‘Oh my gosh, how did she do that? I’m going to buy it just because I would just be able to live if I had to live like her.’ Yeah, it’s really — people certainly are intending to compliment the work, but it’s very backhanded compliments.
[Music ends, airplane seat belt alert sound effect]
Lavaun Heaster: My first experience with disability were actually … when I was about two and a half or so, I started reading See Dick Run. Now, unless you’re old like me, you don’t know about the Dick and Jane books.
Cheryl Green: [laughter] I know them.
Lavaun Heaster: [laughter] But yes. The Dick and Jane books! I could read the Dick and Jane books. but I hadn’t progressed into kindergarten. First grade I didn’t progress. Second grade I didn’t progress. Third grade I didn’t progress and they were like, “Oh, maybe we need to stick her to special education.” When I finally lost my vision and had an assessment done, all of a sudden they came up with a diagnosis. I have written expression disorder! And this is actually the disability that has affected my work life the most because I’m always staying hours late and not charging my employer for it. And, I struggle. And I — even though I know I have this disability, I still, I go into shame and all this stuff because it’s something that people don’t really understand. It’s a hidden disability but somehow learning disabilities, “Well, can’t you just figure out when to use a comma and when to use a colon?” “No, I can’t.”
Cheryl Green: Anything that has “can’t you just” in it is automatically not going to work!
Lavaun Heaster: ‘Oh! Here’s the rule! Just apply it!’
Cheryl Green: ‘Just do it how I do it! C’mon! Yeah!’
Lavaun Heaster: ‘Just do it!’
Cheryl Green: I’ve never heard you tell a story about anyone saying, ‘Lavaun, can’t you just see a little better? Can’t you just focus that eye?’ And yet they will tell you, “can’t you just figure out how to write these words and these punctuation marks?” And it’s so interesting. I get it all the time too around my impairments that people can’t see. ‘Why don’t you just calm down?’ ‘Just relax.’ ‘Just breathe.’ There are certain disabilities or certain impairments that everybody is so entitled to ‘can’t you just do it the way I do it,’ but then other ones you get a pass. I mean, do people ever tell you just see better?
Lavaun Heaster: Actually I have had one situation.
Cheryl Green: [gasp!] Oh don’t tell me, who said it?
Lavaun Heaster: A huge value of mine, even though I’m not a “disability artist,” that people who are obviously seen because they are obviously there but who we choose to actually look away from, not listen to, somehow make them feel invisible. That that gets brought out. And that’s what I do in my art, but it’s also what I do in my advocacy through my work at the city of Portland through just, living and breathing and conversations I get in.
Cheryl Green: It’s funny. You said we met through the fundraiser which is different from how I remembered it but doesn’t — that’s not worth anything. I remembered that …No, you’re right. Well. it was a fundraiser related to the Disability Art and Culture project’s festival which is called the Disability Pride Art and Culture Festival.
Lavaun Heaster: And it was the Sex, Love and Disability fundraiser.
Cheryl Green: You’re right! The Sex, Love and Disability Fundraiser which sometimes goes by Love, Sex and Disability fundraiser.
Lavaun Heaster: Oh! That’s probably the right term. I don’t pay attention.
Cheryl Green: I think they changed it to Sex, Love and Disability so that it wasn’t LSD.
Lavaun Heaster: [laughter]
Podington Bear: Buddy Guy (Buddy Guy by Podington Bear is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License. )
Podington Bear: Feather (Feather by Podington Bear is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License. )
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Disability Visibility Project™. (2015, April 22). DVP Interview: Lavaun Heaster and Cheryl Green. Retrieved from: http://wp.me/p4H7t1-Ois
A photo featuring Lavaun Heaster and Cheryl Green taken on April 22, 2015. The woman on the left is Lavaun Heaster. Her family is Hispanic, Native American and white, and she appears to be white. She is wearing a black and white cardigan with a beige tank top. Her hair is long and brown, and she is smiling at the camera. The woman on the right is Cheryl Green. She appears to be white, has long, wavy, dark brown hair, green eyes and is smiling at the camera. She is wearing a turquoise tee-shirt that says the word “criptiques” printed in a black-framed rectangle.
Produced for the Disability Visibility Project™ by Geraldine Ah-Sue and Alice Wong with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the story of our lives. For more: www.storycorps.org and www.disabilityvisibilityproject.com