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Advocate Profile: Lee Cleaveland

Lee on stage, wearing a baseball hat, mid jamming on his red electric guitar. Right hand is playing the frets, and left arm is strumming.

D: What is your favorite way to pass time? L: I love to spend my time creating art! I love writing music and learning new instruments, making films, writing, performing comedy, doing theatre. I enjoy pretty much all the performing arts! When I'm not doing that, I love getting out with nature and being outside.

D: Who is Lee? L: Lee Cleaveland is a professional actor and a musician from metro-Detroit. Lee has been working onstage, in front of the camera, and behind the scenes for over 13 years. Born missing his left hand below the elbow, Lee has never let that get in his way of accomplishing his goals and plays nine instruments.

D: What gets your fired up about the disability movement? L: I love seeing the dialogue and inclusion thats been happening in recent years. I remember back in the day it was very uncommon to see people with disabilities represented on TV or in movies. Disability used to be a much more uncomfortable topic for a lot of people, but the reality of it is that there are millions of people living with disabilities all around the world and it's great that we're finally being seen more and having our stories told. The people involved with building technology for accessibility get me really excited too. The prosthetics 15-20 years ago were nothing compared to what we have now, and I nerd out pretty hard about all the advancements.

D: What is your advocacy platform? L: I try to incorporate it into my art and my voice. I put my experiences into what I create and share. I like to laugh at myself and my situation and dabble in standup from time to time. I try to speak up for others and important issues when I can, and in 2017 I did a TEDx talk about innovations effecting the 3D printing of prosthetics. While at Michigan State University, I was involved with research on how to make bionic limbs for cheap and how to best share those resources with people in underprivileged parts of the world.

D: What do you want those who do not identify with disability to know? L: Disability isn't a word that everybody identifies with. Some people choose to use it, and others don't. It's not necessarily a bad word, but to some it can be. If you identify as abled, it's not your place to put the label of disabled on someone. Growing up with one hand, I never felt like I was "disabled" because I learned how to do things at the same pace as the other kids. I didn't lose my hand, I was born without one so this body is all that I know. I was able to do everything just as good as everyone else and it took me until later in elementary school to fully realize I was different. Our bodies are just tools for our mind and there is never one type of tool or set of steps to accomplish a task. People with physical or mental differences are just living their lives the best they can and want to be treated just as you'd treat anybody else. Don't talk down to disabled people, pity them, or give them special treatment because you feel that is what they need or is best for them. Don't make decisions for them and instead have a conversation with them about how you can accommodate them if the need arises.

D: Who was the person/role model who inspired you to look into disability advocacy? Why/how did they inspire you? L: My friend Marty Sheedy is a really inspiring man from Detroit who does a lot of work with the Shriners as well as his own charity, the Project Scissor-Gait Foundation. Marty lives with Arthrogyrposis and Prune Belly Syndrome and his foundation helps provide resources to other people with his condition. Marty is one of the most positive people I've ever met. He has one of the most amazing outlooks at life and he inspires me to choose to look at the world from a point of optimism and gratitude. The Shriners Hospital gave me my first few prosthetic arms as a kid, and after meeting Marty and seeing his work with them and his own organization, he's encouraged and inspired me to become more active in the community. Professor Stephen Blosser is an engineering professor at Michigan State University who works with the Resource Center for People with Disabilities and he inspires me to find new ways to help people with disabilities. He's dedicated a lot of his time to running projects to build and invent new technologies to make people with disabilities lives easier and more accessible. He's a very kind and generous man and I'm grateful that I got to work with him on my 3D printing projects while I was there.

D: What are your next steps? L: My band Lee Cleaveland & The Lefthand Band have been busy working on our new record and will be releasing our debut EP very soon!

D: How do we follow you?! Website

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