Theater group breaks down disability barriers

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This is a graphic of an outline of the state of Connecticut with its flag inside.

Connecticut

The Huffington Post recently spotlighted an organization dedicated to the inclusion of special education and non special education students in school theater performances.

In 2002, Micaela Connery, whose cousin Kelsey has disabilities that limit her ability to walk and talk, founded Unified Theater at age 15 at their high school in West Hartford, Connecticut. The idea of the student-run program was to teach student not to pity students with disabilities through an exciting, collaborative experience. There would be no “partners,” “helpers,” “buddies” or any kind of ability specific classification.

“There’s a lot of sadness and oversensitivity when it comes to disabilities. We talk about them as a story of pity,” Connery said. “It’s well-intentioned, but it’s depressing and also a slightly paternalistic view.”

Nine years later, Unified Theater is a national organization working with schools to push them to “become more inclusive and creative.” According to the Unified Theater Web site, “participants develop a positive identity outside of their disability or social status. Before our eyes, our students transform into leaders, activists, storyteelers, educators, and artists who radically change their schools and communities.”

The organization has worked with almost 2,000 students in 24 schools across five states.

“What I learned through Unified and from Kelsey and her parents was that her disability wasn’t something [that] was sad. It was confusing, it could cause a scene if she had a seizure, or could scary if she was in the hospital, but not sad,” said Connery, now the group’s executive director.