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Kaitlin Stober promotes disability inclusion and disability rights through art

Kaitlin Stober paints a 6-foot-tall lighthouse for the “Lighthouses on the Mag Mile” exhibit.

If you walk down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, a stretch of Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and Oak Street, you will see 51 6-foot-tall lighthouse sculptures that celebrate access and inclusion for people with disabilities.

One of those sculptures is painted with patches of dandelions growing against a crumbling, multi-colored brick background — it was designed by DHD research specialist Kaitlin Stober.

Stober says that viewers of her sculpture should consider the images of dandelions growing out of an aging brick wall as a metaphor.

“When I tell people my favorite flower is a dandelion, I’m often corrected,” Stober said. “I’m told, ‘Dandelions aren’t flowers. They’re weeds.’ Despite similarities to other commercial desirable flowers, these ‘weeds’ are seen as nuisances, they are devalued.”

She says the dandelions on her lighthouse illuminate the experiences of some people with disabilities who “have historically been uprooted, discarded, segregated and excluded from society.”

“Many people with disabilities have been left to force their way into the consideration of nondisabled peers who dominate, and generally equate disability with deficiency and burden, rather than strength and value,” Strober said.“Just as the label ‘weeds’ prevents the profitability of dandelion bouquets, so does the stigma of varying disability labels cloud our appreciation for what this substantial community of people has to offer the world,” she said.

Stober’s sculpture is on display outside the Four Seasons Hotel.

The exhibit, “Lighthouses on the Mag Mile” is run by the Chicago Lighthouse, in partnership with Huber Financial Advisors, the Magnificent Mile Association and other businesses and individuals. The goal of the exhibit is to encourage pedestrians on Michigan Avenue to ask the question, “How can I be part of access and inclusion for people with disabilities?”

Chicago Lighthouse CEO Dr. Janet Szlyk said, “We all have a powerful role to play to make inclusion possible for people with disabilities. The challenge is to find your own sphere of influence and use it.”

Stober says she hopes her sculpture encourages people to think inclusively.

“Misplaced and misunderstood connotations are a barrier; not the labels themselves,” she said. “In a different light, such labels can breed celebration — be seen as beautiful, and proudly displayed as art.

The exhibit is on display through Aug. 11. Strober’s lighthouse is located at Michigan and Delaware outside the Four Seasons Hotel, which sponsored her project. More information about the exhibit is available online.