Firstly I’d like to wish a Happy New Year to all Dao’s readers and contributors. Last year we got out and about a fair bit, spreading the word about the disabled artists who engage with the disability arts sector through being a part of events, over and above the usual work we do of reporting on events and supporting artists through networking.
Firstly last June there was DaisyFest in Guildford, which featured two of Dao’s writers Penny Pepper and Allan Sutherland. Both Penny’s intimate Lost in Spaces - a poetic, musical journey through a personal history of the Disability Arts Movement and Allan’s extract from Neglected Voices: Proud were examples of the importance of persisting to assert the human rights element of our art form.
Later that month I gave a presentation of Dao's work at the Senseability conference organised by Tanvir Bush at Bath Spa University. It was a great pleasure to talk about some of the work we’ve featured over the last 10 years and explain something of Dao’s role to assist in facilitating networks and to support emerging disabled writers and artists through our blogs and our programme of commissioning writing on the arts and disability.
Last August Dao was invited to host another poetry event at Together! in Newham, where Wendy Tongue and Bonk Bipolar took to the stage with elements of the craft they’ve been developing through their respective blogs on Dao. There was further endorsement of their talent with invitations for further performances and workshops with the grassroots disability arts organisation.
On 3 September we ran Perceptions of Difference - a poetry event at the Saison Poetry Library in programmed to coincide with the Unlimited Festival at the Southbank Centre. Having had a longstanding connection with Survivors’ Poetry, it was a fantastic achievement for me personally to introduce four poets who’ve been cornerstones of the movement: Hilary Porter, John O’Donoghue, Debjani Chatterjee and Frank Bangay.
Head Librarian Chris McCabe said of the event: “It's very unusual to have an event of so few poets which can suggest so much about the possibilities of poetry.”
It has been an ongoing pleasure to be a named media partner for Unlimited. Dao was the seventh top referral to the Southbank Centre’s website during the festival from 2-7 September, not accounting for the drive we did through our social media and weekly bulletin.
As the Unlimited programme develops through 2015/ 16 we will see new and further embedded partnerships beginning to ensure the programmes’ influence grow beyond London showcasing disabled artists creating extraordinary work.
It was great to see many of the artists given a platform at DaDaFest who are also an Unlimited partner. Last December the festival featured one of the main commissions Owen Lowery with Otherwise Unchanged, plus several of the research and development projects: notably Jess Thoms aka Touretteshero with Backstage in Biscuit Land, Ailís Ní Ríain with her extraordinary cross art form Hieronymous Bosch-influenced The Drawing Rooms, and Kazzum Theatre’s promenade performance piece Where’s My Nana
DaDaFest was particularly memorable for the International Congress that was a major part of the programme, bringing disabled artists from across the globe, to coincide with the International Day of Disabled People.
A quote from mainstream freelance writer Bella Todd who we engaged last year to help us spread the word about Unlimited to the wider press sums up something of our aspiration to keep going in 2015:
“Many national, international and mainstream publications would envy the scale, quality and consistency of community engagement Disability Arts Online fosters on both its main website and through its social media channels.
Its writers, bloggers and readers (among whom there's an important degree of crossover) engage in an ongoing discourse that's at once supportive, argumentative, personal, politicised and teeming with individuality. That's no mean editorial feat. The quality and breadth of the debate will always make Dao pertinent and provocative reading for the wider world.
As a platform for giving a community a powerful, purposeful yet individuated voice, it's also a site to which more media outlets and organisations could do with paying attention.
We know we’ve got a fight to survive in the year ahead. We are under threat from measures designed by people in power who really basically don’t have a clue. Let’s come together and use Dao as platform to get our voices heard and to challenge top-down ignorance
Last week DAOs FaceBook group was the site of a raging debate about disability, art and identity. Between 19-27 November members of the group posted something in the region of 15,000 words in 122 posts. Responses were passionate. It was a valuable debate testing the validity, or otherwise of Disability Art, a Disability Arts Movement and of definitions of being a 'disabled artist'.
Many of the contributions question the social model ethic of 'self-definition' and the validity of art that is informed by identity. The debate was prompted by Katherine Araniello questioning "a trend in disability culture of becoming a 'broad church' to include a wide range of illnesses, and character traits which have been problematised through both self-definition and current political thinking that we are all suffering from trauma and mental illness."
I guess it depends on your perspective. From my own experience of mental health issues I have no doubt that mental health is 'disability' issue. The most disabling aspect being the lack of an arena to talk about the issues outside of a 'medicalised' approach.
There has been the biggest backlash in the Press in recent years against disabled people, and in particular disabled people with mental health issues, for receiving disability benefits. According to the report published by Inclusion London a year ago, the press have been putting out the message that the majority of disabled people are only pretending to be disabled people. We are not who we say we are, but simply fraudsters. The mainstream view ignores the understanding of the disability movement of disability as oppression - as standing for the barriers that society places in front of people.
So what has this all got to do with art? Many feel that the politics around identity get in the way of art; that identifying as a disabled artist takes away from the value of the work produced.
I've been asked by several people who took part in the debate to post the comments from the DAO FaceBook group so you can read the arguments for yourself and continue the debate!
DAO sub-editor Marian Cleary asks how we can become more accessible when it comes to content on the site
As Colin Hambrook reported recently, DAO is soon to have a facelift. As well as responding to your comments made via our recent reader survey, we are also keen to build on our previous successes regarding accessibility to the site.
After the site was last overhauled in 2008, DAO received a Commendation for digital access in the prestigious 2009 Jodi Awards. It’s no surprise really since the web company DAO works with - Surface Impression – have long and established relationships with many organisations who prize accessibility to their web content as much as valuing what they are putting out there.
You though, the readers of and audience for our content, are the ones who can really give us an extra layer of insight into the process of making our journal more accessible. And for that reason, we are asking you for comments about how you think we can make things even better.
Bear in mind, we aren’t so much talking about the current site, but we need to know about the niggly things that bug you about accessing things on the web generally, perhaps with a screen reader, or when engaging with images or navigating external links. It might be that you would like some extra ways of opening content or you have a bit of computer kit that doesn’t work with the way DAO currently does things. Or perhaps you simply want more video and audio.
From my point of view, as sub-editor at DAO, speaking as someone who didn’t cry when she saw her babies for the first time after giving birth, but did boo tears of joy when I scored over 80% in my National Council for the Training of Journalists subbing exam, I’d like to know a bit about what works for you specifically when it comes to how text is presented.
It might be that you want more things in bold, such as titles and names, or you think that single quote marks for speech and quotes works better than double quote marks. Should we cap up acronyms like ATOS or should we follow Guardian Style and present them like this: Atos? Are our paragraphs too short? Too long? Do we present the inevitable mix of styles and tones of our writers effectively so you know what to expect? Do you want more text on a page or less?
We aren’t doing a formal survey on this but I would really appreciate your thoughts. You can either comment below this item or send me an email to email@example.com. If you are emailing, can you put DAO SUGGESTION in capitals (just like that) so I can keep your ideas together and so I don’t miss anything?
Once I’ve had a good look at what you have to say, I will be feeding this back to Surface Impression where appropriate.
Then I will be completing my own current work in progress: The DAO Style Guide! This will outline where we are currently in terms of making DAO as accessible as possible and will also be a good reference point, I hope, for all the writers and contributors to the site and all those who are engaged in publishing content. This guide will be another way in which we move towards our goal of becoming as accessible as possible.
So whether you are a regular reader of the content on the site or an occasional visitor to DAO, if you have an opinion on all of this, let me know.