I was at the Edinburgh festival this year. I sat on a panel entitled ‘Disability a creative advantage’ which was a fun bit of rhetorical cant. But, the thing that struck me most was the presence of disability; it was everywhere, it’s like a new ‘art’ fashion.
Will there be lines of clothing? Will, “Top Shop cripples,” “Mongs’ at Muji” and “Spazridges” be all the rage? Wheelchairs shall replace Penny Farthings as the hipsters’ chosen mode of transportation and walking will be so déclassé. Mental ill health will be the new black and weekend breaks at sanatoriums almost compulsory. Hurrah we’re all cripples now.
But there’s a serious point to be made and it’s this. What has happened to make disability a new desirable marketing niche? Well, I think we did it to ourselves with the help of technology. What! Have we turned ourselves into a commodity? Yes we have.
Social media and technology have become amazing tools in creating a connectivity that could never have previously existed between disabled people. Allowing us to become effective activists and communicate outside our own often-narrow worlds. The campaign against ATOS is a fine example of how social media has provided us with a powerful weapon, likewise the defeat of the Assisted Dying bill.
IDS said recently that disabled people are not ‘normal’; this is a good thing (especially if the intellectually challenged Mr Smith is ‘normal’). In fact, there is no such thing as normal. Everyone is abnormal, there are just different groups in society that define themselves by various criteria and I suppose there must be a group that use the term normal.
IDS showed the power of this connectivity when he said that and it went ‘viral’ and when his ‘fake’ DWP stories were exposed. Holding power to account and achieving (as well as preventing) change are the things we should use this connectivity to achieve as well as the more mundane idea of keeping in touch.
The accessibility built into Mac computers is a boon to the disabled (not that I want to praise the Satan that is Apple). Apps that let people turn speech to text, turn text into speech and allow people to communicate instantly over massive distances have transformed the disability activism and arts landscape.
Although there is a lot to both criticise and concern one about the internet and its instant, though ersatz, experience of the world, in terms of helping to create a worldwide network for the disabled it has become an invaluable tool. And here I am using it now…
So, we recently had an election, in case anybody missed it, and I nearly did. The result was mind numbingly predictable the Tories won in England and the SNP in Scotland and nobody has any idea what happened in Wales.
I see much moaning and wailing about the outcome and what it means for disabled people; the thing is it doesn’t mean much. It will be business as usual under a Tory government. Labour espoused much the same welfare and arts policies as the Tories (not to mention the fab “Controls on Immigration” mugs – what was that about???). One must remember that it was a Labour administration that invited the disabled community to the ATOS / ESA tea party and didn’t we have fun!
We have a brand new Minister for Disabled People – whose name I can’t recall and a lovely new philistine as Minister of Culture Media and Sport – a grey suited man called…called…er…well, anyway it doesn’t matter because both of these posts are not real Ministerial roles they are only viewed by the incumbents as a stepping stone to a real job. The Minister of Cripples doesn’t even sit in the cabinet.
Whittingdale – the Minister for Culture etc. etc. (I looked it up okay…) is in the cabinet but will be so busy spanking the BBC with his kipper tie that we shan’t even get a whiff of his anti everything in the liberal arts ire. I had the misfortune to once meet Jeremy Hunt when he was in that role at a shindig for the Paralympics TV coverage at Channel 4. He was as slick and sincere as a fox in a hen coup I declined to be introduced to him.
Esther McVey was there as well in her roll as then Minister of Cripples – she said “hello” - as I had interviewed her a few days previously for a Dispatches I was making. I didn’t answer. The politician’s slimy politicking didn’t surprise me – that’s what they do. But I was somewhat ashamed of the rim jobs that most of the disabled ‘artists’ present (ok they were TV people – not real artists), were giving them.
We can expect both the new ministers to be gone inside of a year and hopefully after a lot of infighting the Tories slim majority will implode and they will explode but, and this is the real problem, what the hell is there to replace them with..?
Blue Labour? I don’t think so…. They are as much use as a blind lollipop lady on a motorway. I suppose we best all go off and make some art about it, as a protest.