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An opioid epidemic. High smoking rates. Health care provider shortages. Indiana faces serious public health challenges. Side Effects Public Media provides in-depth coverage of these issues and more.

COVID Forces Artist With Disability To Pause Teaching

Johnson Simon, a painter and professor who has cerebral palsy, had his career plan interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. He spoke to Seth Johnson about his passion for teaching in an audio diary project for our Move to Include series.


My name is Johnson Simon. I was born with cerebral palsy, and I’m a painter.

I moved to Indianapolis to pursue my master’s in art. I really enjoy teaching art. What I enjoy about teaching art is watching the process of someone when they don’t think they can do it, and then pushing them along and watching them grow. 

The cerebral palsy I have causes my muscles to be tight. I gotta take a muscle relaxer every day — I take it three times a day. If I didn’t take it this morning, it would be real hard for you to understand what I’m trying to portray. So it affects my speaking, my walking and my hands.

How I discovered my art talent was I started doing physical therapy. My therapist wanted me to work with my hands, and then she told me to start drawing. What really opened my eyes was…when I was in second grade, my classmate was drawing, and I was drawing too. My classmate said, “How do you do that?” And I’m like, “It’s easy.” You can imagine discovering that I could do something that an abled body could not do. I was like, “Oh, cool! This is my super power!”

I live on my own — I’m a real independent guy. When the pandemic started, the first impact [on me] was not being able to go to work. To me, it wasn’t just work. It was my passion. It was like the whole world had stopped. The only thing that helped me during the pandemic was I still had my art studio. So my studio was my getaway from my home.

The way the pandemic affected my career? Well, I want to someday be a full-time artist and a full-time professor. Not being able to teach has set me back in a way. Remember, this past year, I was just starting my teaching career. The pandemic came, and that put a big pause on everything. I’m afraid, with not having the experience, I’m not building my resume.

One thing I miss about teaching is that communication, or being able to be around people period. Being able to give advice and also watching them grow as artists themselves. That’s the greatest feeling ever, knowing that you’re helping someone grow at something that they want to do

Seth Johnson conducted the interview for this audio diary and it was produced by Colleen Pellissier for Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health. It is part of the Move to Include Initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It focuses on people with disabilities and the issues they face.