NORFOLK, Neb. – A regional event that focuses on supporting people with disabilities through a shared reading experience is underway. Northeast Community College launched its National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read: Northeast Nebraska program with a kick-off event recently in the Lifelong Learning Center.
Northeast launches NEA Big Read: Northeast Nebraska event
March 7, 2023 7:44 AM
An initiative of the NEA, in partnership with Arts Midwest, the Big Read is designed to broaden society’s understanding of the world, its communities and its people through the power of a shared reading experience.
Northeast is one of 62 communities nationwide participating in the 2022-23 NEA Big Read. The event in northeast Nebraska is designed for communities to come together around Rebecca Taussig’s book, Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled, with a full calendar of events including a read aloud event for children ages 3 through 3rd grade, listening sessions, educational series, theatre workshops, slam poetry event, art activities, panel discussions, book clubs, and more through May 2.
Taussig is a Kansas City writer and teacher with a doctorate in Creative Nonfiction and Disability Studies. She has led workshops and presentations at the University of Michigan, University of Kansas, and Davidson College on disability representation, identity, and community. She also runs the Instagram platform @sitting_pretty where she crafts “mini-memoirs” to contribute nuance to the collective narratives being told about disability in our culture.
The kick-off event featured a keynote address by Edison McDonald, executive director of The Arc of Nebraska - an organization that advocates with and for people with disabilities to have full inclusion into their communities. He said the NEA Big Read event coincides at a time when “historic legislation” on investing more in Special Education is before state lawmakers. While he’s hopeful, there is still a long way to go for all people with disabilities.
“Here in Nebraska, every day, I talk to families who never thought they would experience anything to do with disability. … The scary truth is that our system is crashing down around us even as it fails to serve nearly the population that needs it,” he said. “This system has only recently been created and is really about to collapse. Only 17% of those people with intellectual and developmental disabilities get support, 3% are on the wait list. And 80% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities get nothing.”
McDonald encouraged attendees at the kick-off, especially those with disabilities and caregivers, to speak with policy makers and others about their lives and ask for a long-term vision to be more cost-efficient and ethical to meet their needs.
“It’s time for you to say that ‘GoFundMe should not be a key piece of our health care system.’ … It’s time to say that we are going to prioritize hiring people with disabilities. That we will support businesses that make reasonable accommodations like providing a quiet room in case they feel over stimulated or provide them extra break time. It’s time for us to fully ensure we include people with disabilities in all locations, from medical facilities, to employment, to night clubs because people with disabilities should be able to celebrate too.”
The kick-off event also included a disability services fair to help individuals and families connect with organizations that offer services and benefits. In addition, music was performed by local drummer Paul Markhoffer with David Chamberlain, of Norfolk, as his band, and by guitarist Ethan McCorkle Deiken from Kearney.
On the day of the kick-off, 16th District State Senator Ben Hansen introduced a resolution recognizing Northeast’s Big Read. It reads, in part, that the “Big Read in Northeast Nebraska aims to inspire meaningful conversations, artistic responses, and new discoveries and connections in communities served by Northeast Community College to heighten awareness around disabilities and available services so people may seek the support they need to empower them to achieve their academic and workforce goals.”
The NEA Big Read: Northeast Nebraska is presented in partnership with the League of Human Dignity, Norfolk Public Library, Elkhorn Valley Museum, Norfolk Arts Center and other local and state organizations with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Local sponsors include Healthy Blue, Norfolk Area Visitors Bureau and Norfolk Area Community Foundation Fund.
All Big Read events are listed on the Northeast Community College website at Northeast.edu/NEABigRead. For more information, contact Jennifer Ippensen, director of library services at Northeast and NEA Big Read project director, at email@example.com or call (402) 844-7113.
Edison McDonald, executive director of The Arc of Nebraska, speaks during a kick-off event for the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read program recently in the Lifelong Learning Center at Northeast Community College. Karla Knight (left) served as a sign language interpreter during the evening. An initiative of the NEA, in partnership with Arts Midwest, the Big Read is a regional event that focuses on supporting people with disabilities through a shared reading.