“Enjoy Your Disability” at the Common Pulse Festival

Clara and I were in Durham, ON at the Common Pulse Festival this past weekend, where we developed this art piece entitled “Enjoy Your Disability.”

"Enjoy You Disability" banner posted in the Durham Art Gallery


Childhood is a period of provocation. As children, we are constantly asked to challenge ourselves, whether at school or with friends, and to testing the limits of our physical and intellectual ability. In fact, many of the games we play as children are predicated on learning the things we can and cannot do. Growing up is about learning your limits and living within them, focusing on the things we excel at to augment the things we struggle.

One of my favourite childhood provocations was a simple game in which fellow classmates would challenge each other to do the impossible. “I bet you can’t lick your own elbow” one child would challenge her friend. Try as we might, bending this way and that, this seemingly simple task proves to be impossible. Although perhaps frustrating at first, as children we are drawn together by these silly provocations, anxious to explore new and weird ways that the body works (and does not).

For something so complex, defining the “disabled” is relatively straightforward; an individual with a physical, intellectual or emotional inability. Of course, many look to medical science, doctors specifically, to define what constitutes a “functional limitation.” But if our working definition is merely individuals who are limited, does that not describe everyone? Who doesn’t have limitations? After all, very few of us can lick our own elbows.

The objective of this interactive piece is two-fold: on the one hand, much like our time spent on the school yard, it challenges the audience to engage with their own limitation—to realize there are things they cannot do, no matter how simple or straightforward the task may appear. On the other hand, this piece argues that we, as humans, are defined just as much by the things we can do as the things we cannot, but rather than bemoan these inabilities we should celebrate them. Being human is about being flawed and our existence is predicated on challenging those flaws, struggling against our limitations to do what was never thought possible. Our weakness should not be a mark of shame that isolates us from one another, but something that draws us all together, binding together into the category of “human being,” and we should both take comfort in, even enjoy it, this camaraderie. Disability is an integral part of being human and that is something we should all learn to take pride in.

– Clara Madrenas and Jeff Preston

By Jeffrey Preston

Born with a rare neuromuscular myopathy, Jeff has spent his life dedicated to advocating for himself and others with disabilities. With a PhD in Media Studies from Western University, Jeff's research focuses on the representation of disability in popular and digital culture. Jeff is currently an Assistant Professor of Disability Studies at King's University College @ Western University in London, ON.