New York City is a melting pot with people of different cultures, religions, races and ethnicities. Adding to its diversity are more than 800,000 individuals living with disabilities, ranging from hearing and visual impairments to physical and cognitive limitations.
The ways that these artists, musicians, teachers and everyday people make sense of the city are unique and varied, but also misunderstood and often overlooked. Sense in the City documents some of New York’s most captivating disabled people as they live, work and create.
Bonding like family at a Korean-American home; flying like Superman at a sensory gym; and reading lessons for deaf children.
Looking for work and looking for love; highlighting blind visual artists who make art and lead museum tours.
By Rachel Brockmann-Bryson and Elly Yu
Kevin and Minkyu share a room on the top floor of MilAl Mission, a group home for Korean-Americans with disabilities in Flushing, Queens. But the two are closer to brothers than roommates.
Kevin, 19, has a speech impediment that makes his language unclear, and Minkyu, 31, is the only person in the home able to translate and give Kevin a voice.
This strong sense of family is at the core of MilAl’s services. Nestled on a tree-lined street, it serves as a haven for Korean-American youth and adults with disabilities. It has three components: a group home, an after-school program and a once-a-week recreational program at a nearby church.
By Shannon Ayala
After school, Nick Sorrentino will fly like superman, knock down bad guys and climb a rock wall. Not bad for a six year-old with cerebral palsy and sensory processing difficulties.
In ordinary play settings, such as a park, kids like Nick or his three-year-old sister Emilia, who also has sensory sensitivities, can have fun, but they can also experience challenges. Nick gets tired fast, lacks awareness of where his body is in space, and has vision trouble, all conditions that hinder his ability to focus.
Noise and tactile sensations can overwhelm Emilia. One of the first signs that Emilia had trouble with sensory processing was her refusal to eat certain foods. She would spit out anything slimy such as pasta. “She basically eats mush and some sort of graham cracker,” her mother said.
For children who were born deaf, learning to read English is a challenge because they have never heard spoken English. Children who can hear learn how to read by translating the sounds of spoken language into written words. But deaf children communicate not through sounds but through signs and gestures. This visual language has no written version. To help deaf children learn to read, visual elements are given to spoken words.
At St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, teachers have been using an unusual method to help their pupils — a method designed not for the deaf in particular, but for any child who has difficulty learning to read. Picture books, props and drawings are all part of the method, based on a book by Roger Essley called “Visual Tools.”
By Jillian Eugenios
By Catherine Featherston
It was stifling in the Bleecker Street subway station on the summer night, 17 years ago, that Brendan Costello accidentally stepped off the platform and fell into the well between the tracks. Seconds later, a train came rumbling over him. Costello, then 27, suffered damage to his first thoracic vertebrae leaving him paralyzed from his abdomen down.
For Costello, and the nearly 450,000 other working-age individuals with disabilities in New York City, getting any job – much less a personally rewarding one – can be exceptionally difficult. According to a report from the Center for Independent Living in New York, the employment rate of people with disabilities is 32 percent – substantially slower than the 73 percent employment rate of people without disabilities.
By Kathleen Caulderwood
Busser Howell lives in New York, in a post townhouse on Manhattan’s East Side. The walls are covered with his paintings — huge canvases with riots of colors, geometric designs and broad strokes. Like any other artist in New York, he regularly attends gallery openings, or museum exhibits, and even shows his own work.
But there’s one thing that makes him stand out, besides his talent. Since he was young, Busser has known that his sight wasn’t good. He had something called secondary glaucoma, a deterioration of the optic nerve, that eventually caused his blindness.
By Gio Pinto
Silent Mob is a deaf rap group from the Bronx, led by James Taylor aka Def Thug. The group raps in American Sign Language, but as with spoken language and traditional hip-hop and rap music, the style and lingo of deaf rappers varies.
Dolla Will, a friend of Silent Mob from Houston, signs slower and with Houston slang. Def Jef throws his signs fast, on par with the lyrical speed of the rapper Twista.
Members of the group formed Silent Mob in high school, when they attended the Lexington School for the Deaf. The groups’ songs often contain themes of what it means to be deaf, such as communicating via text message and “deaf can do it.”
By Tanisia Morris
A graduate of the State University of New York at Fredonia and at Stony Brook, Mindicino has worked in bronze and steel sculpture, pottery and oil painting. Over the last decade he has worked exclusively with acrylic plexiglass to create abstract and figurative works that are rich in color and explore the theme of the lone man. The series features an isolated character with color-drenched cityscapes.
In this interview, he talks about how his experience living with a disability has inspired his art. He describes the challenges of creating works on plexiglass and how the meticulous engraving process has helped to distract him from the day-to-day struggles as an amputee.
By Tara Bracco
By Tara Bracco
By Tanisia Morris
Lachi released her debut, self-titled album in 2010. Since then, her music has been featured in a host of television shows, documentaries and radio programs, including Oprah Radio, CBS Radio and NME.
She has performed at venues and festivals such as Joe’s Pub, the Knitting Factory, CMJ, SXSW and New York University, where she received her Master’s degree in music technology. Her sophomore album, “Make Some Noise,” will be released later this year.