Chris Sparrow loves photography. He loves his dog, Moose. He hopes to one day live on a farm, where he can rescue even more dogs. And he loves the work he does with ABLE-SC, a non-profit center For independent living with the goal to help individuals with disabilities live happy, productive, independent lives. He has been in a wheelchair for seven years, since a rare neurological event left him paralyzed below the waist.
Callie Sharon works in finance. She loves riding horses and doing improv comedy at Greenville’s Alchemy Comedy Theater. The 35-year-old was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was 11.
They are both people with flaws and strengths, hobbies and hassles, good days and bad days, like the rest of us. And that’s how they want to be seen; as people; people with much to contribute to their communities and to society as a whole.
That’s why Sparrow and Sharon — along with “America’s Got Talent” comedian Ryan Niemiller and three others — are taking part in the CAN Talks event on Tuesday, Oct. 22 at Centre Stage in Greenville. They want to tell their stories, talk about their lives, and perhaps do a little to change the general public’s perception of them and others like them.
This first edition of the CAN Talks event is an extension of Greenville CAN (Collaborative Action Network), a collective of self-advocates, service providers, families, caregivers and professionals dedicated to increasing employment and other opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Greenville CAN was created in 2013 by a grant from The Barbara Stone Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to supporting creative programs for those with disabilities.
“The Barbara Stone Foundation raises money to invest in innovative programs and initiatives that empower individuals with disabilities,” says Mike Teachey, the Foundation’s executive director. “And Greenville CAN was started by the foundation back in 2013 as an effort to provide a collective impact approach to improving outcomes for individuals with disabilities. Our focus is equal opportunities for all.”
Teachey says that one of the best ways to affect change is to alter people’s preconceptions about those with disabilities.
Greenville CAN (Collaborative Action Network): A collective of self-advocates, service providers, families, caregivers and professionals dedicated to increasing employment and other opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
“Our belief is that a person’s disability is not the biggest challenge to equitable opportunity,” he says. “The biggest challenge is created by people without disabilities who don’t understand people with disabilities. We feel that the CAN Talks are the best way to challenge these outdated stereotypes because people will see people with disabilities through a different lens.”
It’s a message with which both Sparrow and Sharon heartily agree, and that’s why they’ll tell their stories at the CAN Talks event.
“Ever since I acquired my disability, I’ve felt the need to share my experience with people and educate people what it’s like living with a disability,” Sparrow says, “and to make the world a more accessible, inclusive place for people with disabilities. That’s the main theme of what we’re doing here: broadening the perspective to show that people are more than their disabilities, that they can do a lot of different things and be successful in so many areas of life.”
Like Sparrow, Callie Sharon plans for her talk to be about who she is as a whole,
touching on how she deals with epilepsy, but covering a lot more ground than just that.
“My talk doesn’t just address having epilepsy, but my specific journey,” she says. “We’re all trying to put a different spin on our disabilities and get people thinking differently. I guess the takeaway is that there isn’t one particular version of ‘normal.’ Our ‘normals’ are our own.”
Teachey says that he hopes that those who come to the CAN Talks event will leave with a changed perspective.
“My hope is for the people who see the talks to think, ‘Maybe I’ve been looking at this all wrong. Maybe I should think twice about the assumptions I make about someone with a disability,’” he says. “It’s’ a huge differentiation to define someone through the lens of their disability, instead of seeing a person with a disability.”
If you go:
What: CAN Talks, hosted by The Barbara Stone Foundation and Greenville CAN, and presented by Bon Secours and Michelin
Where: Centre Stage, 501 River St., Greenville
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22
Tickets: $15 (Includes cocktail reception following the event)
Info: 864-420-1366, https://barbarastonefoundation.org