BCC event looks at issue of disabilities

Bellevue Community College observed national Disability Month with two performances of “Not Just Ramps” on Oct. 23.

Bellevue Community College observed national Disability Month with two performances of “Not Just Ramps” on Oct. 23.

The event was part of BCC’s annual Disability Pride Celebration.

Had To Be Productions created “Not Just Ramps” as a theatrical documentary that explores disability from various angles.

Nothing is off limits in the show as it tackles a range of issues including access, stereotypes, guilt of the “abled” and even sexuality.

A forum-style discussion followed the two presentations, giving audience members a chance to share their experiences dealing with disabilities – whether they had them or not.

Many who were in the audience are enrolled in BCC’s Venture Program, which offers an accredited associates degree program in occupational life skills.

Ariel Kerr is a student who suffers from multiple disabilities. She claims the show resonated with her.

“It reminded me of how immature people can be,” she said. “It also reminds me of how happy I am to be out of middle school.

“Once I left there I learned that I could meet people who would accept me by being myself and being friendly.”

Carrie Gibson and Anthony Paul Curry are co-founders of Had To Be Productions, and they play every role in its shows.

The two actors switched between a host of characters in “Not Just Ramps,” each persona shedding light on different disabilities.

The roles are based off of interviews with 12 people suffering from impairments such as deafness, blindness, spinal cord injury, dyslexia, mental illness, and cerebral palsy.

Gibson and Curry say “Not Just Ramps” is intended to make people laugh at their own fears while challenging them to learn what it’s like to live with a disability.

“We’re not here to tell you how to behave,” Gibson told the audience. “We want to challenge people to imagine what it feels like to be someone other than themselves.”

That’s easier said than done, as Gibson later pointed out.

“There are no rules here,” she said. “You’ve got to be willing to ask questions.”

Had To Be Productions focuses primarily on teaching awareness and understanding. A second show from the company, called “Not Until You Know My Story,” addresses diversity through a framework similar to the one in “Not Just Ramps.”

Had To Be also offers a residency program and provides entertainment at meetings and events, using two know-nothing characters named Ruth and Pavel to keep audiences amused.

Gibson, who has a masters degree in psychology and years of stage experience, is the founding Artistic Director of the Seattle-based Growth and Prevention Theater.

The mission of that group, much like Had To Be, is to spread empathy.

Curry is a veteran television and stage actor whose son was born with autism in 1979.

“I battled to get him into schools, and the community and the workplace,” he said. “There was no real network for help at that time, and there was no opportunity to find methods of dealing with this.”

Curry’s son graduated from Issaquah High in 1996 and later attended BCC. He now lives on his own and works for Microsoft.

“I told him he couldn’t move out until he had a job with health and dental and a 401K,” Curry said. “I didn’t think that day would ever come, but it did.”