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Advocating for opportunities on International Day of Persons with Disabilities in Rochester

Kevin Kling, an advocate for people with disabilities, says it shouldn't take "super hero" efforts to participate in society.

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Rebecca Wulff interprets programming to sign language for the audience during an International Day of Persons with Disabilities celebration at the Chateau Theater in downtown Rochester on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — While it’s uplifting rhetoric to assert that people with disabilities have super powers, Minnesota playwright and storyteller Kevin Kling would like to start at inclusion.

Kling was the keynote speaker at the annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities celebration in Rochester on Thursday at the Chateau Theater.

“Most of us don’t want to have super powers,” Kling told a crowd. “Most of us with disabilities just want to be included in the normal fabric of society.”

It shouldn’t take superhuman strength or determination for people with disabilities to be employed, included and accepted in society, he said.

“Making it more attractive to people that when you are more inclusive, it’s better for everybody,” he said.

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Progress continues to be made. Kling said most of his appearances are for corporations and not at schools because “the kids get it.”

This was the sixth local annual observance of International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which is officially Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.

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Kevin Kling pauses while speaking on stage at the Chateau Theater. Kling was the keynote speaker at the annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities celebration in Rochester on Thursday at the Chateau Theater.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

About 150 people with disabilities and advocates attended the Thursday event. Another nearly 100 watched remotely via Zoom. The virtual component is a holdover from the 2020 event and helps accommodate people who can’t attend in person, organizers said.

MaxAbility Taskforce, an organization that promotes hiring people with disabilities, and the Disability Mayo Employee Resource Group organized the event.

The celebration promotes hiring and expanding inclusion of people with disabilities and is a networking event for people who share similar experiences to meet.

Edward Cohen, who is blind, attended and helped promote the event, said he hoped to meet other blind people there.

“We do have a small but thriving community of people with visual disabilities, but in a city this size, I know there are more,” he said.

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Nichole Urban, left, an administrative assistant with Southeastern Minnesota Center For Independent Living, describes to people who have visual impairments artwork on display as part of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities celebration at the Chateau Theater in downtown Rochester Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

When people with similar disabilities meet, they don’t have to explain their lived experiences. Living with disabilities can be isolating, Cohen said. Meeting other people with similar experiences can be comforting.

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The event is a chance for people to learn about those experiences too, said Dawn Kirchner, Mayo Clinic diversity recruitment specialist.

“If you don’t have the lived experience, you don’t have the same perspective,” Kirchner said.

The event included an art show of multiple works of various media and musical performances by people with disabilities.

Kirchner said the art event showed how people have more facets to their talents and lives than we first see.

Ben Cockram, a career navigator with Goodwill, introduced the musical portion of the evening.

“As people come up tonight, just understand that, yes, we have disabilities,” Cockram said. “But they’re performing in front of strangers, which normally scares us to death.”

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Brad Hoag plays the guitar with help from Music therapist Destiny Boyum at the International Day of Persons with Disabilities celebration at the Chateau Theater in downtown Rochester on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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