Roma Ingrid James walks into the Disability Resource Center with an umbrella in her hand and a tote bag heavily weighing on her shoulder. She greets the receptionist with a large smile and wave of the hand. It isn’t until our hands clasp that I feel her fragile fingers and nimble grip.
James is a senior earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts in visual arts and minor in art history. Unlike her classmates, James’ journey has literally been painstaking as she lives with hereditary polyneuropathy, a disease of the nerves that causes weakness in the muscles of the hands and feet. She describes herself as “awkwardly” handling paintbrushes to complete her art, a goal she has never given up.
“I just want to paint,” James said of her mission for going back to school. “I want to paint and become an artist.”
In addition to graduating in Fall 2013, Roma is also celebrating her three art pieces that are currently on display at the Frost Art Museum through January 5.
“I never let the stigma prevent me from being successful,” James said. “I see it as a key to success. I’m not in denial.”
James has lived with her disability since the 1970s when she was a teenager. Growing up in London and New York, her mother moved the family to Florida after seeing her daughter struggle with simple things like buttoning buttons or zipping a jacket. While James has been able to work, she recalls being fired at least twice as a result of her daily struggle to type for long periods of time, grasp round doorknobs or press small buttons to turn on computers.
What separates James most from her classmates is her perpetual drive to succeed. She’s participated in two Study Abroad programs, has become a published artist and exhibited in at least three galleries. When asked of her plans for after graduation, she firmly states she’s headed to Rome for grad school, even though she hasn’t applied to a program yet.
“You’re trying to prove yourself in spite of the odds,” James said. “There is a lot of perseverance, willpower and determination that’s part of me. Nobody’s going to drop anything in your lap. And people are quick to put you in some category. But people with disabilities are very strong willed.”
We invite you to read a letter James drafted, sharing her experience as a student at FIU who, with the help of the Disability Resource Center, has risen above her physical disability to accomplish her dream of becoming a painter.