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Congratulations to Mat Fraser for the recent award given to Cabinet Of Curiosities: but isn’t Disability being firmly put back in a box?

It was good to hear that Mat Fraser has won the Arts and Culture Award category in the Observer Ethical Awards 2014 for his show Cabinet of Curiosities: How Disability was kept in a Box.

I interviewed Mat before the show went on tour and was wowed by his performance in the Science Museum earlier this year. For me it was akin to the kinds of cabaret performance we, in the disability arts movement, were lucky to see Mat do 20 years ago: Mat, angry, proud, projecting a cynical humour advocating for disabled peoples’ rights by giving exposure to the Social, Medical and Charity Models of Disability.

Always anarchic, linking karate-kicking raps with observations of how 'disability' is a personal and social role, which simultaneously invalidates people with impairments and validates those identified as 'normal'.

So it surprised me to read in the Guardian’s coverage of the award by Rhik Samadder that the journalist interprets the show, by saying “One of the show's aims is to normalise disability.”

Disability will never be ‘normalised’. Paul Darke, argued back in the late 1990s in his Now I know Why Disability Art is Drowning in the River Lethe paper, that the inclusion agenda was always in danger of sanitising disability to the extent that endangered disabled peoples’ rights.

The assertion of the potential normality of disabled people to fit in - went against the principles of Disability Arts precisely because it sought to ally with the cultural agendas of the arts establishment, rather than the values of the disabled peoples’ movement.

And it looks like Paul’s warning is coming to pass as the current dismantling of the welfare state continues to threaten disabled peoples’ lives. With precious little comment from the media, measures which, under the pretext of saving taxpayers money (but which with a  terrible irony are costing more than the sums allegedly saved) are leaving more and more disabled people in a desperate state of poverty.

The latest epistle under the reign of the current unelected government, is to do away with the Independent Living Fund - a fund set up because it was realised from an economic viewpoint that it was more cost-effective to give disabled people direct support in their own homes - as opposed to locking people away in institutions. So we are going to see disabled peoples’ support needs taken away and replaced once again with high cost institutions allowing little, if any, quality of life.

I wonder if the subtext of Mat’s show should be How Disability is being pushed back in a Box. In his show Mat compares Nazi propaganda images and asks how easily those images can be applied to the strategies of Atos and the DCMS, working specifically to disenfranchise disabled people.

The ILF helps over 18,000 severely disabled people to live independent lives in the community rather than in residential care.

The government announced on 6 March 2014 that it will close the ILF in June 2015.This is the second attempt by the government as last time the Court of Appeal found that the government had breached the equality duties.

The government now claims to have got around the court findings and says it will devolve the money to Local Authorities for 12 months with no ring-fencing.

After June 2016 there will be no additional funding for already cash-strapped local authorities to meet their legal obligations.

Please, help us in the campaign to stop the government's latest attack on disabled people.

Four easy steps to campaign:
1.    Email your MP now to help save the ILF and encourage all your friends and family to do the same
2.    Sign the ILF petition to government
3.    Tweet #savetheILF and Facebook the link to the e-action - - so others can join the campaign

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 16 June 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 26 June 2014

Dao: putting the disability back into disability arts

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DAiSY Fest 2014 - held in the cavernous GLive arts centre in Guildford, yesterday, left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling. And I guess at the end of the day, there’s no greater thing that the Arts can bring into your life than a sense of belonging; a sense that you have a recognised place in the world.

And so a big thanks to DAiSY for inviting Dao to come and put an event on. With the calibre of performance from Allan Sutherland and Penny Pepper there was no doubt in my mind that it was going to be good. There was a great buzz and a warm and engaged reception from an appreciative audience. We were blessed by the fact that both Jo-anne Cox who plays cello with Penny, and Jennifer Taylor, whose life story was the subject of Allan’s performance, were both able to make it to the event.

Jennifer’s story; Proud (One of the cycles of transcription poems from Neglected Voices), was a real testament to the strength of the resources that many of us have to draw on - as disabled people - in order to survive. I think even Allan was surprised by just how powerful his selection from Proud, was. And it was great to hear from Jennifer how encouraged she has been by her collaboration with Allan. And that she is now looking for ways to tell more of her story.

Jo-anne’s contribution adds immensely to the depth of Penny’s performance, emphasising the rhythm within her words and enhancing the meaning by adding extra nuances to Penny’s expression. When Penny exhorts her audience to “come to Cripplegate”, we have no choice but to follow. Lost in Spaces - Penny’s one woman show is going to get it’s first full public airing on 8 September at the Soho Theatre, London. I can’t wait. She is destined to knock her audiences for six with her captivating performance and the quality of her writing.

Penny has been working with another Dao writer, John O’Donoghue who has been mentoring through the writing of Lost in Spaces. He is also encouraging her to produce an autobiography from the diary writings that the show draws from. It was interesting that one of the main points that came through the question and answer session was to do with the importance of disabled people putting our stories out into the world; partly because the world will always endeavour to tell our stories for us if we don’t. And the discussion was also about how we choose which aspects of our stories to tell.

For Allan the heart of the transcription poetry process is about allowing space through interview for people to find their voice and tell the stories that they want to tell. For Penny, who described the frustration of always being pushed by publishers to talk in detail about her impairments, it was very much about avoiding styles that would allow for a tragic but brave interpretation of her life. 

We’ve been through a period of over a decade now during which disability arts, has been doing its level best to kill off the ‘disability’ word. How often have I heard: “We’re artists. We don’t want to be defined by disability. We want our work to be taken on its own terms: not to be tainted by disability, (by which what is mostly meant is impairment, anyway, and not ‘disability’ at all.” 

So, a warm level of thanks are due to Penny and to Allan for reclaiming the ‘d’ word with a pride and a sense of celebration.

It was really satisfying for Dao to have had this opportunity to present some of the work that has been at the core of what Dao does online, but in a live setting.

I am currently planning some further events this summer/ autumn with Together in Newham and with the Poetry Library on the Southbank. So watch this space, as they say! 

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 5 June 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 6 June 2014