The preposterous assumption that just because some people can get out of wheelchairs and climb flights of steps it's ok to reckon that we all can, has been preying on my mind. With more and more people buying mobility equipment for a variety of reasons that may or may not be associated with disabilty, I wonder how Disability Equality trainers cope with this issue.
I'm well aware that the general public do not register the difference between wheelchairs and mobility scooters: wheels are wheels.
And there is also almost no differentiating between users of wheels - apart from gender. I get mistaken for the oddest of people and I do find it offensive that people who know me and the other people in question, cannot be bothered to register the difference.
I'm not talking about small, hard to spot differences, I am talking about being mistaken for the plump, blue eyed woman with both legs amputated; I'm a size small with khaki-green eyes and both my legs. I also get mistaken for the woman who always travels her powerchair with a walking frame, an assistance dog and wearing a neck brace. I have none of these.
I do have blonde hair long enough to pin up with a variety of trademark chopsticks, yet am frequently mistaken for a short and curly haired woman on a scooter.
What makes all this so ironic is that I'm currently working on material for an exhibition called 'People Like You'. The phrase, originally offered to me with the words: 'should be taken out and shot' is now intended to highlight our common humanity, infer equality and play with the implications of the word 'like'.
It isn't meant to suggest that wheelborne are all much of a muchness and indistinguishable from each other.
Hey guys it's me! No really,
I know I'm wearing wheels, but
honest, it's me and I'm not
sporting a wig. I haven't
shot the dog, or had a change
of personality. I'm
not wearing coloured contacts,
or borrowed legs, I'm not the
grumpy one who runs people
over. And I'm not the one
for screwing the
Hey guys, it's me.
On the road to equality, I often feel strangely disempowered by the process of Disability Equality Training. Why is it only the temporarily non-disabled who get offered a training opportunity? And why only on occasions?
I rather fancy the idea of some training myself. Not exactly the same kind of course, but there must be skills I could practice in order to combat the negative effects society has on my moral and there must be advanced skills I could use to influence or change the mindset of those folk who never get the benefit of expert guidance.
I just don't want to leave something so important to me totally in the hands of others, even if they are experts; but I do like the idea of being proactive, as well as the possibility of making a more subtle contribution to equality.
People who suffer trauma through accident are offered help to find ways to cope. Society is frequently the accident that traumatises disabled people, but at best we are offered nothing more than passing, sympathetic acknowledgement.
Years of feeling like a leper have taken their toll, I want to be more responsive and positive to the people who have actually taken equality onboard. And with those who haven't got there yet, I'd like to find creative ways to take the initiative, I do rather like the idea of having more control.
Rolling in to a lift I need
space to turn around,
like the wheelless do, I prefer
a face-front exit.
Equal opportunity needs
Wheelless take turning
for granted, without the need for
negotiation. Just a quick
foot shuffle, head turn;
on the spot, no-brains-cells-needed,
I traveled part of the way to Hakone under a poster with an image in grey, of cracks in a pavement - Proof of Existence. The Hakone area seems stuffed with museums and galleries that will tempt me back; this poster was for Shinji Omaki's Proof of Existence.
Passing the Hakone Open-Air Museum I saw evidence of artworks that will need to be explored. Plentiful signs and posters pointed to other inviting destinations; Hakone brought itself to my attention and certainly has something to live up to, next time I come.
Standing in front of the naked musician blowing an oversized horn, I presumed it was an homage to the real life naked trumpeter.
This one was small - less than hobbit-sized and on loan from, yes, somewhere in Hakone. A bronze statue in the Marunouchi Street Gallery in Tokyo, he was modestly shaded by a tree, small in every detail (bar the musical instrument), and looking very comfortable with his nudity.
If I am frequenting all the wrong places to find disability culture, it is not just the lure of the 'mainstream' famous arts, it is also their accessibility and plentiful abundance. I continue to question the existence of disability culture yet daily hope to find it hidden in plain sight. Invisible only because of a culture chasm.
Yet is a society without the need for disability culture good or bad? Is this taking integration too far? Does it free up disabled people or oppress them?
This experiment of trying to find Disability Arts and artists 'from the ground up' needs some control data to line up against. Maybe I need to visit London as a foreigner and see how far I get.
Those universal sounds, uttered by
deaf people signing, alert me. Here
on the train I travel, wheels on wheels
back to the crowd, quietly watching
window reflection, unobserved.
Instant curiosity lifts heads
momentarily; and flashed tension
comes, goes, never was. I get the
outrageous idea of a culture
where disability just isn't
a concept; a culture where people
are just and gloriously people.
I seek Japanese fabric. Something on a roll, where I could ask for a metre or two.
I love the colour aesthetic here, and the use of texture. I feel the need to take some of it home with me.
This fabric lives in the past. It comes in one narrow width, one long length - it comes in a Kimono quantity - a 'tan' - ca 35 cms wide and twelve metres long. Linen or silk, sometimes cotton, each with it's own tradition of weave and colour. And each weave or colour has it's own traditional application: the male Kimono, the female Kimono, the child Kimono, the door curtain - the size and shape of each is defined by the size of the tan.
Tailors and fabric shops sell tans; tourist shops sell off-cuts and scraps. Somewhere as yet inaccessible to me, I'm convinced there is patchwork. But the idea of cutting into, or defacing, a tan, mystifies and horrifies the traditional tailor. My search exposes the alienness of my thinking.
Wider fabric is western fabric, in western quality and colours; western fabric is cut and sold by the metre. Someone somewhere must surely be creating a bridge, opening up the possibility of buying half a tan, a quarter even, for something Other.
If I lived here, my home would be outrageously furnished in mutilated tans. My wardrobe would be full of corrupted shapes - tans distorted to interpret western convenience clothes. Even on powerwheels I balk at the mobility restrictions the Kimono imposes.
Hamarikyu contains a duck
cenotaph; a mausoleum of
departed souls. Traditional duck
hunting grounds of past emperors
awakened the need to honour
the spirits, if not the consumed
bodies, of ducks who gave their lives
for imperial entertainment
and gastronomic pleasure.
Hamarikyu is a moated garden,
with ponds and islands, a haven
for ducks spared the fate
of their predecessors, to gather
unmolested by hunters past
or present. Forgotten humans
fading in the shadow of
a memorial to ducks.
I subscribe to the theory that Utopia always appears to be getting closer. And with the perfect place, the perfect society, comes the perfect life-form - the cyborg. And wheelborne people could be closer than most.
The chairborne aquanaut leads the field, being more than just a metaphor for her chosen life-form, closer to whales, dolphins and sharks than any mere human in dive-gear.
I came to Tokyo hoping to pursue my hunt for Disability Arts, but instead find myself on an apparent detour. I want to return to Odaiba, the artificial island at the end of Rainbow Bridge, to revisit the Universal Design Centre at Toyota's Exhibition Hall. Here they demonstrate developments to a Universal 'wheelchair'.
This 'chair' transports it's user in upright or horizontal positions and travels at speeds that exceed those aspired to by most powerchair manufacturers. It is being designed to be universally desirable. Is this what mobility disabled people want? Is it a viable alternative to a powersuit? Is it anything more than a detour on evolution road? Is it sexy enough to compete?
Technology could be my best way forward: a way to make some connections; a way to look below the surface of life here; to discover heterotopic spaces. There may still be treasure at the end of the rainbow, or this could be going nowhere.
sense of direction.
hither and thither.
I see Sumida.
Today we find
Today I spent roaming in the sunshine, getting my bearings. I rolled alongside Sumida and headed for Ginza. There are more cyclists weaving along the pavements, more mobil-phonists standing in awkward places and I do believe more wheelchairs in evidence.
I have discovered that Japanese department stores regularly host art exhibitions, and just past Ginza I did indeed see evidence of a Japanese artist, possibly inflenced by Klimt and Picasso, exhibiting on the sixth floor; what a great idea.
The artist didn't grab my attention, but a sparkling, jewelled manual wheelchair did.
Positively bling - I loved it!
On one of the designer-wear floors, tucked between international Names, sat this transformed duckling just waiting to party. Covered in crystals, it was the focal point of a section devoted to 'sit-friendly' clothes for chairborne people. And knee bags - I think I might want one!
2016 already calls.
The Paralympics will happen
here, the hype has begun.
Access comes into focus;
the future promises better
and yes I believe. Here where life
already feels good on the outside,
here really could be gearing up
to make groundbreaking breathtaking.
Coming here opened my mind,
re-connected me to
Please, tell me I'm not just being
I’ve written two blogs since day out in Chichester and not posted either of them, my self-preservation instinct over-riding everything. I need to overcome this paranoia.
My fear is real, but what about the threat? The instinct to hide is a relic from my “dinosaur brain”. Threatened, like the wounded animal, I seek isolation, and I am so easily made complicit in my own marginalisation.
Integrate. Hide. They shout
from behind the barricade
of “Normal.” Is this progress?
Or an offer of safety
until the war is over?
Except this isn’t war.
This financial instability
merely an excuse to mask
the poverty of aspiration
that sees a generation
overwhelmed by its
complexity of knowledge
and its poverty
Times are hard; as a consumer of fringe products, I discover my choices are slowly being eroded by the decisions people are making in order to survive this financial turbulence.
As a disabled person I notice my needs are more openly ignored as people struggle for their own existence.
The hard times are actually the times when I really do need recognition and support, but I am dismayed to find the so called “New Thinking” that is designed to enable the arts to at least tread water, actually offers disabled people nothing except the encouragement to hide.