Jo Verrent attended an event at Manchester Town Hall on 17 September that discussed leadership issues amongst disabled people
Decibel isn’t just about performances, it’s also about encouraging debate. Leadership Lounge was an opportunity for, as the chair David Bryan put it, a warm and friendly discussion between the speakers, that could open out to include the audience.
So who was ‘in discussion’? Both speakers were disabled women – from Australia, Kathryn Duncan and from America, Christine Bruno.
Both spoke passionately about their own experiences – Kathryn as a self-styled ‘freak’, artist, provocateur and academic and Christine as a performer, director and Disability Advocate within the cut-throat world of casting for American TV and film.
Both had different perspectives – of fitting in, of their acceptance and delight in difference, their take on ‘mainstream’ and disability arts – but also much common ground. It wasn’t really clear if their differences were directly related to the differences within America and Australia or if they were part of their distinct personalities.
They were both warm, charismatic and certainly much-needed role models. The topics that emerged were varied: Is the term ‘Disability Arts’ a help or a hindrance? Why doesn’t Gordon Brown embrace his disabled identity?
Does labeling yourself ‘disabled’ mean people don’t take you seriously? Like so many debates though, it only seemed to wrestle with its principal focus – leadership and its relationship to disability – at the end, when time was short.
Perhaps we need to stop ‘lounging’ around (forgive the pun!) and really start to get to grips with the conflicts that some people have around leadership and disability.
One of the last questions asked by the audience was whether the experience of impairment meant that one becomes a different sort of leader. Now I think this is a fascinating question. It would be great if this could come at the start of a debate and not the end.
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You can also visit Sync Leadership - a project funded by the Cultural Leadership Programme to examine the interface between leadership and disability.