Sunday, July 11, 2010

Keynote Address at LPA Awards Banquet --2010

I was nervous when Kathy Martinez, Assistant Secretary at the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the Department of Labor, took the podium for the keynote address at the 2010 LPA Awards Banquet. I hate to underestimate the crowd, but in my experience, I don't remember there ever being a keynote address at an awards banquet. Usually, the program included the relatively quick presentation of scholarships and service awards, then it was on to the dance. My trepidation had to do with the fact that a keynote address would add more time to the program and with the potential content of Martinez' address. I figured she would talk about the larger disability community and LPA's role within it -- an important topic but on the whole but I think LPA is still working toward embracing the identity of disability.

Secretary Martinez quickly calmed my fears. She stepped up to the microphone and roared out a "hello LPA!" with a delivery that reminded me of Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam. After securing the crowd's attention, she tried for the admiration of the crowd by recognizing LPA's reputation as the best party organization within the disability community. She added that LPA also was earning a reputation for using the media and popular culture to shape positive images and messages about dwarfism specifically and disability in general. Though credit is due more to the individuals behind the camera in shows like "Little People, Big World," and "The Little Chocolatiers," she acknowledged LPA for using reality television to promote positive messages.

Throughout her speech, Martinez shared anecdotes about her experiences at conferences for the blind community. Poking fun at her own community, Martinez explained that "On the first day of a blind convention. You recognize voices from across the room of friends you haven't seen for a year. You are so excited to reunite with your friends, you room across the room to say hello, knocking over buffet tables and innocent bystanders along the way." Martinez told the story much better, and much funnier. As she shared the anecdotes, I thought about how important it is for people with disabilities to tell stories in their own voice, and how different the story may have been coming from Fred Armison (aka Governor Patterson of New York) on Saturday Night Live.

Martinez ended her keynote with a call to action, challenging LPA to take shaping positive images a step further. "You've been able to work in front of the camera," she said. "Now it's time to take it behind the camera." She said the LPA has taken the opportunity to appear on television in roles and situations created for us. But now it's time to create our own opportunity and our own roles. As she challenged the audience, I thought about how many times a year I receive emails from producers looking for individuals to cast in the next reality show that happens to include little people. Looking forward, instead of waiting for the next email about the next "great idea" for a reality show, LPA and the dwarfism community needs to come up with our own ideas.

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