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    Cass Irvin has used a wheelchair since age nine, when she contracted polio. She is one of the co-founders of the Disability Rag, a disability rights periodical published in Louisville since 1980 and considered one of the most important publications of the disability rights movement. She’s also the author of Home Bound, a memoir that details her time at home as a child, and her path to independence and advocacy in adulthood. She lives in Kenwood Hill. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

    As told to Taylor Killough​​
    Photo by Adam Mescan

     

    “We live in the house that I grew up in. I was stuck in the room I’m in right now a lot when I was young because it was on the first floor, and some days I didn’t leave the room because it was just easier for everybody else that way. I call it The Kitty Room in my book.

    “When I moved back into this house, I wanted to reclaim the Kitty Room. Now it’s my office. It’s no longer a place of confinement, but a place where I do work. I wanted it to be a place that didn’t have bad memories. It’s kind of like a scrapbook now, full of things that have a story or are part of my history: plaques, awards, my college diploma, and the picture I have of myself and President Kennedy at Warm Springs, Georgia.

    “There’s no room in my house where you can’t see outdoors. It’s just the way my father built the house, so I’ve been trying to pass the time by looking at the tiny things. The traffic flow is different. You see different people walking. Now couples are walking their dogs, which means they’re both home at the same time. I’m watching how the leaves change, the robin’s eggs hatching in the nest in our gutter. The chipmunks in the yard become extremely entertaining because when you have time to sit and watch a chipmunk for a while, it’s just like a Walt Disney cartoon. They are adorable.

    “We watch Andy Beshear’s press conferences every day. To ‘enjoy them’ is a funny way of putting it, but I find it reassuring to realize that somebody’s there who knows what he’s doing, and is taking advice from the people who know. He’s steady and calm. I love what he does with his interpreters. It’s a great way to show that he is thinking about accessibility. And he’s also cute.

    “Once all this is over, one of the first things I’ll do is either go shopping with my friend Ramsey or go to her place. One thing that has inspired me during this time is this story: Ramsey was going to go to the store last week but she’d heard that they are only letting so many people in the store at a time. She was concerned because she relies on TARC3 to get around, which means you have to leave when they come get you. And if she’s stuck outside waiting for other people to get out of the store so she can go in, that would mess up the timing. Well, a friend of hers who lives in her apartment complex called Kroger and the people at Kroger said, ‘Oh, we know her. You just tell her whenever she comes, we’re going to let her in.’ It’s a big store, but it’s still a neighborhood. They take care of her.

    “We can learn a lot from this pandemic. I think we’re not used to not having freedom. I can say I’m used to it, but I worry about the people who are freaking out because of it. Y’all not used to this. You all can’t just give up stuff that’s really not that important. It’s going to take you all a while. We think the things that confine us make us not have freedom anymore, but sometimes the things that confine us can make us healthier. People spend a lot of money on — excuse the expression — stupid stuff, but now they’re thinking more. They’re thinking things like they need to be more careful about going out, and they need to learn how to cook more.

    “I hate the expression ‘this too will pass,’ but I had an aunt who always said that, and I keep hearing her voice throughout all this. Because of course it does pass. Just keep breathing in and out. That’s really all we can do. Just don’t breathe in and out on each other too much.”

     

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