|photo: Patrick Hughes, CEO of the Evanston firm Inclusion Solutions, came up with the idea for the exhibit, "The Art of Normal," hoping to start a conversation with people in the disabilities community. (Maribeth Ratajczyk / Handout)|
Step a little off the path and toward the new exhibit on display on the second floor of Evanston's Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, and you're likely to trigger the sound of a dog barking.
The barking noise, startling at first in an institutional building where city meetings are held, is something that Eric Ferkenhoff has heard most of his life.
"It's exhausting," he said. "You can't stop it."
Ferkenhoff, 46, a Wilmette resident and an assistant professor of journalism at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, presented what he called a "Thought Walk" at the exhibit, "The Art of Normal" which made its debut last month.
Ferkenhoff said he devised the walk — with its safety and danger zones (one floor tile setting off the dog barking noise) — symbolically sharing his experience dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder — "before I got to the point where I could actually calm down to appreciate life," he said.
Ferkenhoff is one of six artists featured in the exhibit who shared their personal stories of living with disabilities.
Patrick Hughes, whose Evanston company Inclusion Solutions works with businesses, helping them find ways to insure inclusion of customers with disabilities, came up with the idea for the exhibit. Hughes said he did it in part marking the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Hughes, a Kellogg School of Management graduate, teamed up with Jen Yamin, a pre-law student and senior at Northwestern University (and a nationally ranked athlete on the school's fencing team), on one of the exhibits, titled "The Sticker Game." They posed a question: "What's more important: minimum compliance to the law or exceptional customer service?"
Hughes, whose company has worked for access at sites ranging from gas stations to election booths, said too many conversations are "being had through attorneys, not through marketing folks or a customer-centric thought process."
He's hoping the exhibit will cause people "to stop time for a moment and have a conversation" on such questions.
One of the participants he recruited to take part in the exhibit, Tommy Carroll, a recent graduate of Northwestern University, who has been blind since age 2, brought a perspective from the visually-impaired community. He shared in an essay the ins and outs of navigating the university's food court at the Norris Student Center.
"Cafeterias aren't always the easiest to navigate," Carroll observes at the start of his essay. "You've got lots of people around, you have all those crowd control tether things that are meant to make the lines but really just create confusion and overall you have no sense of uniformity."
An overzealous cafeteria worker who grabs his elbow, asking "Can I help you?" and then leading Carroll around without his permission presents a dilemma.
"Even though I know where I want to go I grunt an affirmation — yeah you can help me in this circumstance, but I don't necessarily prefer it," writes Carroll, who ends up striking his head on a shelving unit in the scenario.
Revecca Torres, another exhibitor, wanted to show through photograph that "a wheel chair is not limiting."
Torres, injured and paralyzed in a car accident at age 13, went on and earned degrees in fashion design and theater arts. In 2009, she started Backbone, a nonprofit agency that helps people with spinal cord injury and their families connect with communities, she said.
One of her photos shows herself looking out at the water off an Evanston beach. She
The photo was taken from a spot where the ground was paved, said Torres about an area ordinarily not easy to reach with a wheelchair.
Ferkenhoff said he appreciated Hughes extending the opportunity to participate. He said his form of obsessive compulsive disorder involves getting stuck on a catastrophic type of thinking and then using exhausting rituals) to try to disperse the thoughts. After years of self-medicating the condition, he found a combination of medicine and therapy to bring it under control, he said.
"My condition is not so visible, so it's easy to be misunderstood," he said.
His hope is that by participating in the exhibit, "it will create awareness that anyone you meet may be struggling somehow, some way, they are due the same respect."
The exhibit is located on the second floor of the civic center, 2100 N. Ridge Ave., opposite the stairs in the Fleetwood-Jourdain Art Guild Gallery. It is to be remain open through the end of the year.