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Disability is Strength – Desabilidad es Fuerza

A mural depicting a group of people in a room.

A mural depicting a group of people in a room.

Disability is Strength – Desabilidad es Fuerza

In 2022, the Center for Independent Living, Inc. (CIL) celebrated 50 years of advocating for and serving people with disabilities. To celebrate this history and renew. our commitment to inclusion for disabled persons for the next fifty years, CIL embarked on a local mural project. The murals are meant to reflect the movement for disability rights and independence that began in Berkeley, CA and has grown to over 400 Centers for Independent Living based on the CIL model across the nation and more in 20 countries around the globe. They also honor the visionaries of the past who helped build this movement and present a vision for a future of full inclusion, rights and justice for people with disabilities. A team of talented, local, intersectional disabled visual artists were selected to create a series of murals in Berkeley and Oakland with two experienced and internationally renowned muralists. This mural is the first of three to go up this year and focuses on the history of the independent living movement and the role of people with disabilities in securing rights and accommodations and to secure resources to fund independent living centers around the world.

A mural depicting a group of people in a room.
"Disability is Strength" mural on display at the Oakland Airport.
A man in a brown jacket standing next to a bridge.

Charles Blackwell

As a young man, Charles Blackwell’s visual art studies at Sacramento City College were cut short after he fell head-first down a steep slope, damaging his eyesight. An artist since a young age, Charles is now legally blind, only able to use some peripheral vision. He dropped out of school, struggling to reconcile his artistic dreams with his unexpected disability. “I thought, ‘Man, what did I do to deserve this? Why is this happening to me?’”

​ Charles redirected his studies toward sociology and social work, but after graduate school struggled to find employment. “There’s more than just being able to go through daily life after losing your eyesight,” he says. “It comes down to an emotional side. There’s a lot of rejection. Boy, I got hit hard.”

​ When he went blind, Charles’ doctor told him, “take your defect and make it an asset.” Charles has grown to embody this phrase, continuing his lifelong passion of making art by using an entirely new style, freedom, and way of working to compensate for his limited vision. He creates his artwork using primarily ink and canvas, leaning in closely to see through his peripherals, and using rich, vibrant colors.

​ Charles is now living in Oakland, California. He has won numerous service awards for his volunteer work and advocacy for the arts, and has authored three books: Redemption Beyond Blindness; Fiery Responses to Love’s Calling; and Is, the Color of Mississippi Mud. Charles joined ArtLifting in August, 2016, after being referred through the community arts studio in San Francisco's Tenderloin District. Now, his works are accessible across the United States, adorning walls, tote bags, notebooks, and phone cases. He hopes that by sharing his artwork he can increase his income, obtain stable housing, and continue to inspire as many people as possible. ​ Visit his website:

A woman in a wheelchair sits in front of posters.

Vanessa Castro

I am Vanessa Castro, an artist, illustrator, and author with a physical disability, Cerebral Palsy with a speech impediment. So I use a power wheelchair and communication device. I grew up in San Mateo, California. I graduated from University of California, Berkeley with a bachelor's degree in English and minor in Education. In 2006, I started my own art business, Ness Ness Va’s Art.

I've always loved drawing and painting with lots of bright colors and great enthusiasm!!! The mediums I use are markers, pastels, and acrylic paint. I’ve written, illustrated, and self-published 4 children's books, "Gloria, The Gecko Attendant," "Rollerblading on Autism," “Finding The Spirit,” and my newest, “Max and Tansy’s Secret Hideaway.” All of my children's books are designed to educate kids about different disabilities.

I am very independent and determined. Once I put my mind to do something, I always accomplish it, in spite however long it takes me. It usually takes me 3-5 weeks to finish a painting, but I always get it done.

I paint characters like Wonder Woman and other super heroes in wheelchairs and/or on crutches to teach children that even though a person may have a disability or something unique about them, everyone has their own super powers.

Besides my children’s books and original paintings, I make and sell prints, posters, cards, calendars, tote bags, t-shirts, and coffee mugs. I do lots of art festivals in the East Bay, mainly Alameda, Oakland, and Berkeley, where I sell my products. Hope to see you at one of the art fairs!!!!

I also do custom orders, so if you would like to have an unique piece from me, feel free to email me ​

Visit her website:

A girl wearing glasses and a green shirt.

Tiffany Hong

In my senior year of high school, I took an art class as an elective. During my time at Chabot College, art (specific Emphasis on Painting) was my college major, taking several art courses. I am currently taking some Vocational Workshop courses, learning about resume and cover letter building, applications, interview prep, etc. I preferred including any multicultural or pop culture artworks with symbolic meanings. It could reflect our social issues, history, and current real-world events. Sometimes, I also think about incorporating paintings inspired by classic movies (c. the 1920s-1970s) to reflect art and culture's history further.

A man in a hat and glasses standing in front of a cherry tree.

Pancho Pescador

Pancho Pescador was born in Santiago de Chile in 1972. Pancho is a self-taught visual artist, muralist, music lover and a visual activist. He combines these disciplines to stir things up and to activate critical and imaginative thinking. Life brought him to Oakland, CA where he lives, creates and shows his visual guerrillas. Pancho Pescador belongs to a collective of muralists and street art called Community Rejuvenation Project (CRP) based in Oakland. Watch the PBS video about him:

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