By Katie Auchenbach, Intern, Disability.gov
On May 14, Disability.gov officially kicked off its second No Boundaries Photo Project. The aim of the project was to photograph a diverse selection of individuals living with disabilities and highlight their personal and professional achievements.
As a summer intern for Disability.gov, the project took place on what was only my third day of work. It was an exciting opportunity that truly opened my eyes to the importance of advocacy and awareness of issues for those with disabilities.
At my university, I study both communications and photography, and these fields have taught me the importance of storytelling. With a split-second click of the lens, a photographer can capture the essence of a person’s story in a single photograph. Click.
Throughout the course of the day, our team photographed four individuals with varying disabilities in locations in the D.C. metro area.
We met Hector first, and in between the stacks of books at the Arlington Public Library, I chatted with him about our favorite novels, authors and which Hogwarts house we would want to be sorted into. Hector was smart and well-spoken, and he knew that he wanted to be in Slytherin house because its characters are the most interesting. Click.
Next, we traveled to a sport and health club to meet with Brendan, a little boy with a seemingly endless supply of energy. Brendan spent his session playing basketball with his dad, and I couldn’t help but laugh at his youthful antics and cheers as his dad helped him dunk the basketball into the net. As he left, I reached out to give him a high-five and received one in return, accompanied by a wide, cheerful grin. Click.
Our third participant was Elizabeth, whose soft-spoken nature and good-humored personality put everyone in the room naturally at ease. Despite losing her sight 11 years ago in a tragic accident, Elizabeth had one of the most gentle and optimistic attitudes of anyone that I’ve met in a long time. Click.
Lastly, we met Alice at a restaurant in Bethesda. While she was being photographed, I sat with her at one of the tables, and we proceeded to talk about anything and everything, including our past and present relationships, the places we have traveled, our siblings and much more. Despite being a complete stranger, Alice talked to me like we were old friends and her hearty laugh was infectious. Click.
Although the participants were all very forthright about their disabilities, it wasn’t their disabilities that stuck with me. With Hector, I was happy to find another library aficionado. Brendan reminded me that we all need to be silly sometimes. And Elizabeth and Alice were both proof that open hearts and open conversations lead to fast friendships.
I learned a lot from helping with the No Boundaries Photo Project, but most of all that labels don’t define you. It doesn’t matter whether the label is classifying a disability, ethnicity or race, socio-economic status, gender, sexuality, age, political affiliation, job title, etc.
Sure, sometimes you can’t avoid labels. But while a label might be a part of who you are, it does not encompass all that you are. Whoever you are, whatever your label, you are more. Like Hector, you are driven. Like Brendan, you are enthusiastic. Like Elizabeth, you are inspiring. Or like Alice, you are effervescent.
Those are the things that matter.
Katie Auchenbach is an intern for Disability.gov. She is currently studying at Susquehanna University, pursuing a degree in communications with minors in photography and women’s studies. In the past, she has interned for The National Civil War Museum and CSAAC (Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children).