BALTIMORE — By the time the doors open 15 minutes early this Saturday night, dozens are lined up to get inside. Women wear wedges and bodysuits that hug their curves. Men sport collared shirts and their favorite sneakers.
Some have caregivers guiding them; others need wheelchairs. Many wear the signature T-shirts stamped with the logo, Club 1111. It’s the long-awaited evening when the League for People with Disabilities transforms into a glittering nightclub for disabled adults. The classrooms become dance floors, with DJs playing pounding club music. Merchandise, such as sunglasses and blinking rings, is stacked up and ready to be sold, and volunteers wait in a makeshift spa to do fingernails and apply temporary tattoos. A lounge with dim lights is set up for chilling.
The only one of its kind in Maryland and possibly the country, Club 1111 is where hundreds come to dance and make friends. Some want to find love. All are drawn because of the sense of safety, the feeling that no one is judging them, that they can be like anyone else out for the night. “It is one of my favorite places in the whole wide world,” says Stephen Jones, 29, one of 503 people who packed the club this night.
Much has happened in the past 30 years to try to give people with disabilities a life that looks the same as for anyone without special needs. People who would have at one time been institutionalized are living in group homes. Sheltered workshops are closing as people are moving into integrated workplaces that embrace what’s called the “neurodiversity” movement. And social opportunities are growing to include specific dating sites, cruises and proms.
But adults with disabilities, like Jones, yearn for more opportunities to socialize. Club 1111 is unique for how often it is held — once a month — and for how many people it draws. Local, state and national advocates are not aware of another event like it anywhere in the country.
“Whatever you come looking for, you can find it here,” says Janice Jackson, 59, of Northeast Baltimore, who uses a wheelchair after being paralyzed in 1984 when she was hit by a car. “We see a lot of relationships blossom. Some fail. Love is always in the air here at Club 1111.
“Everybody feels free here.”
Organizers said most clubgoers have intellectual and developmental disabilities, about a quarter use a wheelchair and roughly one in 10 have visual impairment.
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