How One Woman is Changing Perceptions Through Visual Storytelling

How One Woman is Changing Perceptions Through Visual Storytelling

Kim Lan Grout created The Redefining Disabled Project as a platform for people with various disabilities to share their experiences

Photograph by Briana Brough
Photo by Briana Brough

Born in Fresno, Calif., the writer, editor and educator owned an academic tutoring academy in San Francisco for years – “I like standardized tests as much as the next person, but I have a knack for making those subjects and tests feel fun and engaging” – before she and her family moved to Durham last April. She started The Redefining Disabled Project, a photo and short narrative series featuring people with various disabilities, two years ago as a way to tell the true, raw stories of real people with disabilities and expose what their daily lives are really like. Kim and her husband, Sean, and daughters Kim-An, 4, and Lily, 3, live in the Waterford neighborhood.

I lost my leg above the knee when I was 18 years old after years of struggle with a congenital vascular syndrome. After the amputation, I was so eager to start walking again that I scheduled an appointment with a prosthetist mere days after the procedure. He noticed my drive, and offered me encouragement and warning in a few short sentences. He said, ‘You can do this. But some days are going to hurt. Some days are going to be harder than hard. And one day you’ll want to throw this prosthesis out the window. You just have to remember that you’re the one who has to hop outside to go get it.’ The message there was to not give up. He made clear that this part of my journey – healing, coping, learning to walk again and then existing in a society that isn’t always friendly or accommodating to people with disabilities – was going to be difficult, and that when I was knocked down with frustration or defeat, I was the only one who could really pick myself back up again. He didn’t mince words, and because of that, I was and am prepared for the hard days. And at times when I feel like I’ve failed, I know that whenever I’m ready to try again, my success relies on me and me alone to achieve it.

To all the women out there: Know that you are loved, you are powerful and you are able. Keep thinking that and use your powers for good, and nothing can stop you. Nothing will dare stop you. When you doubt yourself or feel someone doubt you, just repeat, lather and rinse; repeat, lather and rinse: You are loved, you are powerful and you are able.

With my storytelling tendencies and my love for teaching, starting The Redefining Disabled Project was obvious. As a disabled woman, I am always frustrated when the media portrays people with disabilities as either charity cases or superhuman heroes, reputations that really don’t help anybody understand disabilities and the people who have them. So here I am, breaking it down old school for anybody interested in photos and rad stories of beautiful people.

I think about the courage and candidness that my models have shown me and feel moved to do them and their stories justice. I’m constantly thinking about the truths that each of them exist in, the struggle and the beauty in that, and itch to write of their experiences, to share it with others for whom I know those stories will resonate. All – all – of the Redefining Disabled models want so desperately to be heard but feel like they haven’t had the platform to do that or the forum that’s safe enough to spill their deepest, sometimes darkest thoughts without judgment; I’m not a judge. I’m a lover and respecter of all people of all abilities.”

Amanda MacLaren
Amanda MacLaren is the executive editor of Durham Magazine. Born in Mesa, Ariz., she grew up in Charlotte and attended UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in journalism. She’s lived in Durham for seven years. When she’s not at work, you can usually find her with a beer in hand at Fullsteam, Dain’s Place or Bull City Burger or getting takeout from Guasaca.