Artist, others show disability won’t be deterrent

May 12, 2019

Abigail Deuter was thrilled when she found out a painting she made while a client in an art program sponsored by Passages Inc. in Columbia City had won a contest and would be the official poster of this year’s DisABILITIES Expo.

After all, she’d only been painting a few months, she said. And painting isn’t the easiest thing for her to do, considering the 26-year-old Columbia City resident works with : and sometimes without : a prosthetic right arm and hand.

But after an accident when she was 19, Deuter has been learning lots of new skills, and she thought she had a good idea for the poster. It depicts exploding fireworks in yellow, blue, purple, pink and red.

DisABILITIES Expo, an annual event showcasing objects and services for those with physical, emotional and intellectual needs, is celebrating its 10th year. What Deuter wanted to show, she said, is that even in celebrations, people shouldn’t forget those with needs.

“Fireworks are a celebration,” she said. But for people with sensory conditions, they also can be troubling.

“I have a TBI,” she said, using the abbreviation for traumatic brain injury. “I get affected by loud noises. Fireworks : they’re cool to watch, but they give me a headache.”

Saturday morning, several hundred people flocked to Memorial Coliseum to peruse wares from a record 124 vendors and service providers, said Andie Mosely, a grants and marketing assistant for AWS Foundation, the event sponsor.

The event also brought out the talents of area residents with disabilities, from sight-impaired people who participate in Turnstone’s goalball program to Huntington University’s inclusive dance group. 

Passages and its Bridge 333 studio showed that people with disabilities can produce art, Passages staff member JoElla Kincaid said.

Scores of items were on display. Some were paintings. Some were pillows or fabric panels featuring needlework. Some were ceramic pieces or jewelry. Some were floral arrangements, including wall hangings that featured spring flowers seeming to grow out of folded, brightly colored umbrellas.

One striking mixed-media piece was a large wall hanging made of various-sized wooden panels, some covered with fabric and lace and many filled with inspirational words and phrases.

“Love” was spelled out in twine at the center of the work. “Enjoy the little things” and “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful” filled other spaces, while glittery rhinestone-studded clip hair barrettes formed photo holders. 

The work was done by Rachel Kissinger and Lonnie Coffingy, clients of Passages.

“It’s such a beautiful piece,” said Tammy Bruns, who had just bought it. “To think that someone with a disability made this just spoke to me.”

Bruns, of Fort Wayne, mother to an 18-year-old daughter with Down syndrome, Alexis Mackeprang, confessed she might have been predisposed to love the work. Alexis, a Homestead High School sophomore, is just getting into art, Bruns said.

But the work also had decorative appeal.

“I have a perfect wall for it,” Bruns said.