AbleVoices: Photography for Self-Expression, Empowerment, and Advocacy


The story of Jen Vogus’s special educational program AbleVoices begins with her son Aidan attending kindergarten. As his intellectual and physical disabilities prohibited Aidan from communicating verbally, Vogus introduced him to photography as a means of expression. Aiden made pictures of things he did and enjoyed, and his mother sent these images to school with him. Ultimately the photos illustrated that he is more like other kids than he is different from them, and he was able to build more meaningful relationships with teachers, peers, and others.

As a result of taking photos of Aidan through the years, Vogus immersed herself in the technical and artistic aspects of photography. According to her, what initially was a solution to a problem, resulted in, “an outlet that is creatively, intellectually, and professionally stimulating.” She is grateful to Aidan for helping her see the world differently, appreciating the extraordinary detail found in it.

This outlook inspired a year-long photo project titled Saturday Morning Run in which black and white photos document different Saturday morning runs in 2017. According to Vogus, “This collection is about new experiences, growth, and transformation.” Because of these personal experiences, Vogus developed hands-on photography projects for students with disabilities resulting in AbleVoices, a non-profit organization teaching photography as a means for self-expression, empowerment, and advocacy. With a decade's worth of experiences, research, and passion, Vogus explains, “I am drawn to young adults transitioning from school to adulthood because it is such a critical when important life changes occur. For many of these students, communication is one of their biggest challenges. Photography is a beneficial way for students to express their strengths and interests and communicate their life goals. Images convey in an instant what words take much longer to express. Photography is a way for the students to express their needs, share their preferences and interests, and make decisions about the future. The more opportunities students have to discuss their interests, explain their goals, and actively plan for their future, the more control they will have over their own lives.”

AbleVoices is showing now through February 2, 2020 in the Parthenon Community Gallery.

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