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Deborah Caulfield's blog - disability arts online
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Bang! DaDaFest 2014 is in my head (in a good way). / 12 December 2014

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DaDaFest's two-day International Congress on Disability & Human Rights was one of the best events I’ve attended. It brought together some amazing talented disabled people from within and beyond the UK.

Arriving late on day one, I stumbled up the auditorium steps (no hand rail) during a presentation that worried me so much I’m keeping quiet. Suffice it to say that charity is alive and well and doubtless always will be.

For where you see oppression you will find opportunities.

Once upon a time professional and volunteer do-gooders were recognizable by their Liberty paisley. Since learning the social model lingo they’re more incognito.

Congress day two was ably chaired by Liz Carr and Mandy Colleran. These two home-grown, funny disabled women are super-stars in my opinion. Both are naturally weird and witty. They’ve been making me laugh for two decades. I hope they never stop.

The debate about who should lead disability arts organizations - disabled people or the other sort - was a bit of a distraction and could have turned nasty. Some useful issues were raised, however, and it gave me the chance to congratulate DAO’s editor on his leadership skills.

Simon Raven said: What an awful word ‘disabled’ is.

He has a point. It rhymes with labeled. He continued: Winston Churchill was a leader; he was disabled due to mental health issues.

Laurence Clark urged caution. Churchill introduced the Mental Deficiency Act 1913 (replacing the Idiots Act 1886) under which 65,000 people were institutionalised.

Terry Galloway from the USA was a huge hit. She co-founded the Mickee Faust Club in Florida, a non-profit theatre company for the queer, disabled, minority community teaching writing, performing and production. Please, I want to go there.

Chris Smit from Grand Rapids USA is something else. He’s convinced that disability art can change perceptions of disability. He could be right.

The biggest barriers stopping disabled people going about their business are non-disabled people's (negative) thoughts and perceptions on disability. The roots of oppression grow deep.

20 years ago disability equality training was the way (we thought) to bring about systemic change. I still have the overhead transparencies making it crystal clear what the problems were.

But whatever happened to all their action plans, I wonder.

I think the only way for disabled people to change perceptions is, perhaps paradoxically, not to go out of our way to change minds or thinking, but to go about doing what we do. Find a way and just do it.

Pointing out the problems to non-disabled people is a time-consuming distraction, it turns out. By itself awareness rarely, if ever, leads to action.

Because most of the time the action needed is for other people to stop it. Stop staring, stop sneering, stop being greedy, thoughtless and selfish. And stop being stupid.

Yet the system encourages all these traits. So good luck!

I’m not going to dis the DisArt (though I hate the title) festival in Michigan. It might make a lasting impact on the local townsfolk. They’ve got until April to flatten the pavements and fill the voids in expectations and understanding. Hey, The Mayor’s on board! (Their mayors have more mileage than ours, which isn’t saying much, but I admit it’s a start.)

I didn’t hear anyone at DaDaFest claiming to want to change either the whole world or their tiny bit of it. Simply doing the show, getting people there, was an achievement. The achievement.

That DaDaFest 2014 was a success is due to the incredibly hard work and determination of a few people who were crazy and committed enough to create a space for disabled artists to do and celebrate their stuff.

No apology, no gratitude, and for no reason higher than just wanting to, because we can, and because we’re bloody well going to.

Because we have something to say. Or maybe we don’t. Who cares!

Look, the world isn’t asking (never mind demanding) for more inclusion and better access for disabled people. If we want it, we have to take it.

More crips on television, eg the Paralympics, hasn’t changed anything. Disability equality isn’t even a sideshow any more.

However, if anyone can stop DisArt becoming a peep/freak-show, gawp-fest or non-event that the folk-in-the-street don't know or give a shit about, that man is Smit. He’s smart, he's articulate, and he has friends. People seem to listen to him.

But has he got a gun?