Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chicago exhibit honors photographer Tom Olin who has documented the disability rights movement for more than 20 years

From WLS-TV in Chicago. Pictured is Tom Olin's iconic photo of Adapt activists crawling up the steps of the U.S. Capitol in support of the ADA.

CHICAGO -- For the first time, the work of a renowned photojournalist who captured some of the Disability Rights Movement in America is being showcased at Chicago's Center for Independent Living.

Adapt is an national advocacy group that focuses on accessible transportation and integrated support services for Americans with disabilities. It is the theme of a rare photography exhibit that dates back more than 25 years.

Years of protesting against the lack of accessible transportation started in 1985 in L.A. Photographer Tom Olin documented significant moments of the disability rights movement.

"Adapt is a very important organization. We call it the militant arm of the disability rights movement where people with disabilities come together, and we use non-violent civil disobedience to assure that certain demands, to assure that people with disabilities get equal access happens," said Rahnee Patrick, director of independent living at Access Living and a member of Adapt.

"We have been very successful prior to the Americans With Disabilities Act, several cities that had chapters of Adapt were able to get mainline transportation made accessible for people with disabilities without any sort of law that was nationwide due to the protests that people had created in their local communities," Patrick said.

Olin did not have a disability when he started photographing Adapt's protests. Curator Riva Lehrer says Olin's work is rare.

"There's something about the way he sees that he retains the strength in every single person that he depicts that, you know, you see this a lot of vulnerability and a lot of risk in this room, yet everyone sort of has this veracity and dignity. And I think it's because besides just his strength as a photographer, that he's so deeply steeped in what all this means is that there's never a moment where he's coming for the outside and manipulating this for unfortunate reasons," Lehrer said.

Olin's work is not just unique. It's a part of history.

"We really want to get this out to people because people do know about the other civil rights movement and a lot of the photography of other civil rights movements has been really key in being educational tools, rally points resonant images that have changed people's minds, and I think hardly anybody outside of our community and even in our community knows this work," said Lehrer.