In a striking collection of photo-essays, the authors of the recently published Dreams Without Limits give readers unique insight into the hopes, dreams, and achievements of people who experience different disabilities.
Written by Laura Dahill, director of marketing and communications for The Arc Lane County and photographed by Jon Christopher Meyers, award-winning photographer and adjunct faculty member at Lane Community College, the book blends words and images in chronicling thirty nine individuals with disabilities and their families.
“The book was actually the idea of my predecessor, Sydney Chamorro,” Dahill explained. “She had started the project as a way to change the message families receive at the time of diagnosis. Rather than instill a negative message, she thought a book like this would instill a message of hope for families. Ultimately, she wanted to show that children with disabilities are capable of dreaming big dreams and grow up to live full and meaningful lives.”
Originally focused on young children and their families, the book shifted focus to include teens volunteering and working towards their life goals and adults who had fulfilled their dream of getting a job after the passage of the Employment First initiative in the state of Oregon. “Employment First supports the closing of segregated sheltered workshops and instead finding adults with disabilities jobs within the community. The plan is to not only share the book with pediatricians, geneticists and hospitals, but also to enable businesses to see just what people are capable of,” Dahill added.
She continued, “As a parent of a child with a disability, I am traveling the journey of many families featured in the book, yet each experience is unique, and I learned so much from the families I interviewed. My personal experience of raising a son with autism is far different from a parent raising a child who is deaf, yet there is a universal bond that ties us all together: the hope and dreams we have for our children to be welcomed, included, and contributing members of their communities.”
Describing the project as a labor of love, Meyers said the experience made him think more deeply about society and the importance of all community members feeling welcomed, valued, and included. He explained, “These portraits will spark conversation and motivate people to question their own beliefs about disability. Some people may smile, others may cry. These portraits and stories offer a window into people’s lives, and what it means to live lives with dignity and meaning.
“My desire for these photographs was simple—let the individuals be themselves and let their personalities shine. The photographs enable these individuals to share their experiences with us. The length of each photographic session varied based on the needs of the individuals. I endeavored to create a calm environment in the studio. I spoke to each person and as the individual became more comfortable, I could see his or her personality emerge,” Meyers added. “Many of my favorite images are those in which children and their families are engaging with each other. The camera recorded a moment in time, but it was a moment that captured the infinite, unconditional love which many families experience.”
With a personal connection to the project, Cognitopia CEO Tom Keating contributed an essay reflecting on his personal experience watching his parents advocate for his late brother who was diagnosed with autism—a time before laws and regulations existed to protect the rights of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and paving the way for meaningful employment and integration into mainstream society.
We’re also thrilled that Kyle Mitchell, a graduate of the Eugene 4J School District’s Community Transition and Connections program and one of the earliest adopters of the Cognitopia MyLife ePortfolio is featured in this wonderful book. “Chef Kyle” is making daily progress towards his dream of owning a food truck, and we know he’ll be there sooner rather than later.
Dreams Without Limits is available in paperback and limited edition hardcover and can be shipped anywhere or picked up locally at The Arc Lane County office at 4181 E Street in Springfield, Oregon.
Julie Henning has been with Cognitopia since 2015. In that time, she has been involved in customer support, training, marketing, documentation, social media, and data collection. Some of her favorite projects have been mentoring our videographer intern, Nate, and weekly classroom testing and curriculum development for the many students in the 4J Connections Transition program. She works closely with Eugene-based SLLEA (Smart Living, Learning & Earning with Autism) to integrate Cognitopia’s self-management tools into the organization and structure design input and support platform implementation. Professionally, Julie has over twenty years’ experience working in engineering, technology, software development, and journalism; a path made possible with two degrees in Technical Communication: a BS from the Milwaukee School of Engineering and a MS from Colorado State University. A single mom of three high schoolers (grades 9, 10, and 11), Julie has introduced Cognitopia to terms such as “sick” and “yeet,” while overseeing the office coffee consumption. In her free time, she enjoys playing recreational soccer, improv comedy, and traveling.