Advocacy group Disabled United in Direct Empowerment will celebrate its fifth anniversary tonight with an art show and silent auction as part of the First Friday Art Walk.

Advocacy group Disabled United in Direct Empowerment will celebrate its fifth anniversary tonight with an art show and silent auction as part of the First Friday Art Walk.

The event will display art from Medford's Studio Sfumato, which provides classes and holds shows for artists with a range of disabilities.

With a focus on art outside the box, the studio aims to promote independence, individuality, creativity and an income for the artists, said Jim Gochenour, director of development for Living Opportunities, which sponsors the studio.

Featured artists will include Alex Iverson of Ashland, Mieke Ryneal of Ashland, Carl Elwood of Medford and Andy Attalla of Medford, Gochenour said.

Music, graphic art by Michael Koester and Chuck Cheatum, raffles and food will round out the evening, a fundraiser for DUDE.

Steve Ryan, executive producer for the Medford-based nonprofit, said the event also serves to raise awareness of the challenges people with disabilities face.

Many social events are held in places that people with disabilities cannot access, Ryan said.

A gathering might be held upstairs or in a location with a lip at the door so wheelchairs can't enter, or at a time when public transportation isn't operating, Ryan said.

Even the art "walk" features some galleries that are difficult for people with disabilities to enter, he said.

"We just trying to raise awareness here," Ryan said. "Our goal is to think about a significant part of our population who face these challenges."

Accessibility issues also affect the elderly, he added.

"Can your 72-year-old grandmother get into your store?" he said.

DUDE, founded in 2003, helped to get Oregon's HB 3268 passed, Ryan said. In order to save money on home care, the state was reclassifying people with disabilities as less disabled then they actually were without medical evidence, he said. The new law allowed people to appeal the reclassification.

DUDE also worked to delay cancellation of the Rogue Valley Transportation District's Route 4, which ran through the medical corridor along Barnett Road, Ryan said.

Lately, Ryan said DUDE has been successful in "getting representation in local decision-making," by having some of their constituents join commissions and committees around the Rogue Valley.

DUDE aims to educate and to improve the lives of Oregonians with disabilities, Ryan said.

"It very often happens that one of the most vulnerable parts of the population ends up getting the short stick," Ryan said. "Unless someone makes some noise."

And that's what DUDE is for, Ryan added.

"It's about quality of life," he said.

DUDE's event will start at 5 p.m. at the Yoga Sanctuary, 340 A St. No. 7. For more information, call 944-9600.

Staff writer Kira Rubenthaler can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or krubenthaler@dailytidings.com.