By Sarah Quinto
Image: Jae Casper, smiling, with theatre posters in the background. Their shirt reads: “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.” Audre Lorde And they are wearing a Zelda hat.
Jae Casper passed away in May of this year and it’s been hard to eulogize them in a way that does justice to their incredible life and legacy. For me, Jae was a personal friend. But Jae was also a visionary within the disability community.
I first met Jae in a class taught by Devva Kasnitz in the Disability Studies program at City University of New York. Jae and I teamed up on our end-of-year project. Jae interviewed Autistic friends and associates, and I translated the interviews into theoretical models. We called our project The Normal Project ; it is still active today. Looking back, it feels just as fresh and relevant six years later as it did at the time. Perhaps even more so.
One reason for it’s lasting relevance is that the project is a nod to complexity and diversity within the disabled community. We are chameleons and shapeshifters and science fictions. We are everywhere, and often nowhere, our political voices stifled and our identities crushed under stigma and discrimination. Most of all, we are real people, with bones and blood and feelings. Lots of feelings.
Jae believed in this diversity amongst disabled people and lived for it. They were constantly connecting to bring more and more people into the disability fold. Disability Nation? Perhaps that’s what Jae was after. A nation full of un-cloaked disabled people who stood proudly in their identities.
I will miss Jae. So much. I’m grateful that we were able to create the Normal Project together and stay in touch over the years. If there’s anything positive to say in this loss, it’s that losing Jae has cemented their vision and crystalized the need for disabled people to belong to each other and the disability community. We need each other as much as we need an accessible world.
Thank you, Jae. With love.