'Impaired Perceptions': Photographer rejects first impressions

Story highlights

  • Brian Steel's "Impaired Perceptions" photography exhibit showed in 2012
  • Steel has severe muscle weakness from congenital fiber-type disproportion
  • You shouldn't let anyone tell you what you're capable of, Steel says
Brian Steel was taught from birth that he was "handicapped." Singled out in school by policies and his peers, he grew up feeling unfairly judged because of the way his body worked.
Steel was diagnosed with congenital fiber-type disproportion when he was 4 months old. People with this rare condition, also called short fiber syndrome, typically experience muscle weakness, particularly in the shoulders, upper arms, hips and thighs, and may have breathing problems, according to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH estimates that about 25% of people born with the disorder die during early childhood.
Tired of the way people made up their minds before getting to know him, Steel decided to photograph other people with disabilities and tell their stories. The result was a photo exhibit called "Impaired Perceptions" that premiered in Atlanta late last year.
"We filter everything that we see through the lens of our perceptions, so it is not until we are able to step outside of our perceptions that we are able to determine what is real and what is not," the 33