Dear Comic Relief,
have your ears been burning lately? They should have been, because you have been a hot topic amongst members of the disabled people's community over the past month.
Things came to a head recently when Prime Minister David Cameron appeared on your fund-raising music video with One Direction. Many disabled people - who are being subjected to massive cuts in their benefits, allowances and legal rights - felt that this was one PR stunt too far! In fact, I understand that there's a campaign under way to get the PM removed from the video.
But this isn't what I'm writing to you about. In 1985 when Comic Relief was launched by Richard Curtis and Lenny Henry, many of us were disappointed that it seemed to be following the same pattern as the established Children in Need charity. This portrayed disabled people as being needy and vulnerable, tragic but brave, dependent and objects of pity. It all reinforced society's perception of us being unable to manage our own affairs and live without supervision, "care" and charity.
We approached Comic Relief and explained our concerns. We introduced Richard, Lenny and other members of the original team to the concept of various approaches to understanding "disability". We talked about ways in which disabled people had identified how medical and charitable "models" of disability damaged our struggle for our equal rights. We described how, if people were encouraged to feel sorry for us, they would never take us seriously as members of the community.
We also explained about the "social model" of disability, which describes the barriers in society that effectively disable us. Those barriers, we said, can be identified and removed, opening the way to our full participation as citizens. If our allies become indignant about the barriers we experience, we argued, we can then all work together to remove them. How much more positive for us disabled people, than being patted on the head and patronised.
We were surprised and pleased by the original team's reaction to what we had to say. They listened, admitted that they'd got it wrong and wanted to know what they could do to put things right. They understood that what we were saying required them to hear directly from disabled people, not from non-disabled people who purported to represent us. A number of talented and clued-up disabled people were then invited to work with Comic Relief and to introduce the concept of disability equality to the organisation.
Disability equality training, provided by disabled trainers, was arranged for non-disabled people who were involved with Comic Relief. This was across the board, and involved all levels of the charity. Comic Relief also paid for the unique training material that was used and also funded its mass production as a training pack for use by groups and organisations of disabled people afterwards. The pack, called 'Altogether Better', included a video and printed training materials and was a hugely influential training resource for over a decade. It is still held up as a model even now.
On your own website, you talk about the important work you did with the (then) British Council of Disabled People (BCODP) so that disabled people could fight "to be involved in decisions that shaped their lives"
So what's gone wrong? We watch in disbelief as you provide funding to one of the richest and biggest disability charities, an organisation that is controlled and run by non-disabled people, and that has a history of abusing and oppressing disabled people and excluding us from having any real say in the running of their organisation. We are talking of course about the Leonard Cheshire Foundation who continue to portray us as needy, vulnerable and tragic in order to tweak people's heart-strings and get them to open their wallets.
Our offer to you, as the new generation of Comic Relief organisers, is to look back at what we achieved together over a couple of decades. To meet with us again and to address the core issues that seem to be raising their ugly heads again; to stop you decending this slippery slope.
I'm a bit long in the tooth now and unable, personally, to participate as I once did. However, I know there is a network of young, professional disabled people who would be more than happy to work with you. Your organisation's mission is supposed to be all about social justice, about giving people the resources to help themselves, in order to create lasting change. Maybe it's time to review that objective in relation to the way that you support those organisations who continue to oppress disabled people?
I look forward to a positive response from you.
aka Crippen - Disabled cartoonist
Currently running on Facebook is a campaign lambasting the Comic Relief 'Red Nose' day because, they say: "(We) are annoyed and distressed at Comic Relief's decision to include David Cameron in the video to this year's charity single by One Direction. They then go on to list all of the atrocities committed by Cameron, aimed at sick and disabled people, and those on benefits or on a low income.
Firstly, let me make it clear that I agree wholeheartedly with this group's stance against Cameron and the present government. What the ConDems are doing to certain sections of our society beggars belief. I have, along with other disabled activists, been in the thick of the fight against them and will continue to take my place alongside those who challenge the government.
However, to boycott an organisation that is the very antithesis of Tory policy, just because of Cameron's appearance in the video is, in my humble opinion, not exactly constructive.
Many years ago, when Comic Relief, Children in Need et al first appeared on the scene, disabled activists throughout the country were appalled at the patronising crap which oozed from our TV screens. Not only did we boycott these appeals but we also tried to make sure that everyone knew why. We chained ourselves to the railings outside TV stations, we leafleted and a few intrepid souls even managed to gate-crash televised events to publicise our cause. "Piss on pity", "Rights not charity", "Nothing about us without us" were bold new statements way back then.
We all know what Mr Wogan and his cronies did. They ignored us and have pretty much continued as if nothing had happened. Lenny Henry and the other, original Comic Relief organisers, however, started up a dialogue with us and asked what they were doing wrong. They listened when we explained and took our criticisms on the chin.
From this small step many of us began working with Comic Relief (arguably the ONLY such charity to have agreed to work with disabled people on our own terms). Some of the results have been the increased involvement of disabled people in the organisation, funding being directed towards organisations "of" rather than "for" disabled people and changing the "tragic but brave" stereotype that so damages our struggle for equality and full citizenship. (And it became an approach they've used with other groups they support, too.)
Those of us who are really long in the tooth will remember that landmark training resource "Altogether Better" which was so vital to disability equality/disability action training throughout the 1990s and beyond. Perhaps for the first time, it enabled Deaf and disabled people of all ages to tell our own story through the video clips and materials it brought together and it tackled some highly controversial issues head on. Who funded it? Well, Comic Relief actually.
So please guys, hammer Cameron and his cowboys as much as you can. I'm with you on that. But don't risk sabotaging probably the only organisation of this type which, in my opinion, has worked hard to take our issues on board and provided a level playing field for us all to operate together on.
Thanks for listening. Rant over (for now!).
There's a new kid on the block folks ...
Identifying himself as 'Bonk Bipolar' (inspired from the Criptart character) he'll be adding his thoughts and feelings to the DAO Blog section on a regular basis. He boldly opens up his head and heart and invites us to follow him along some extraordinary paths.
So let me introduce you to his unique style of poetry/rapping with this piece entitled Wrap Rap.
Too many ideas to achieve today,
so many thoughts that have run away.
Often I gaze and look into the grey matter
that is the patter
on my milky way.
I wander through days
and act on my gaze,
but nowhere it goes ... as my mind's a slave ...
to my inspirations and drive that go round and round
more often than not, driving me into the ground.
The options I strive for never seem to come near,
yet my thoughts and time get lost without fear.
I sit again at this pad with lettered keys
and a world I'm connected by internet that can often deceive.
My brain goes round and round and round,
yet I'm not moving, not a peep not a sound.
I can open my mind and step onto a cloud, placing myself in a busy bustling crowd.
Am I mental? I ask myself with a chuckle
then I answer with yes,
and a proud internal stutter!
Sitting wondering why my mind has these ticks,
never understanding what it is that makes me lick ...
my top front lip and why I rotate my neck ... ‘till it clicks.
Oh no my legs are beginning to twitch,
stuck in this body like a trick,
deep breath in and out
can stop me from feeling shit.
One again the brain,
my brain has caused these deep tricks.
Wonder why now I can hear conversations?
They’re not real as the people are not here,
but yet clear as day.
I look over my shoulder,
I'm sat all alone by myself and beginning to wonder...
is it real or am I having a moment?!
“Shut up Bonk” you’re starting to mutter,
if you told people what you did they would call you a NUTTER!
So when I'm quiet and
looking puzzled and stuck! Don't worry about me as I'm talking to US ...
US being me myself and I,
and WE don't give a Fu*K!
Bonk Bi-Polar's blog starts in a few days. Click here for the link.
One of the things I enjoy about being part of the Disability Arts on Line (DAO) family is that it provides for me a unique platform on which I can present my more adventurous cartoons.
Take the Criptarts for example. I haven't a clue where it's going each week and the end result is usually more of a surprise to me than to you. Of course I've got a rough outline in my mind for each episode, but it's as though the characters come alive once I've started to lay them out in the strip and they just take over.
You've only got to look at the last but one episode for an example. I'd decided to make some sort of comment about the heavy snow we'd been experiencing. I'd got a story-line mapped out and was pretty sure where it was going when Bonk, the self-defined 'nutter' with the purple spiky hair, suddenly jumped in with his joke. Just as I was about to make some serious comment about reduced access. As Aadila said: "Gross!"
You can go to the episode by clicking here.
And last week. Inspired by Liz Carr's performance as Clarissa Mullery on Silent Witness, I'd decided to 'guest' her on the strip. But what happens? The characters take over again and use it as an opportunity to take a poke at the government!
Click here and you'll see what I mean.
It was the same when I invited Penny Pepper onto the strip. I still haven't got the felt tip off the laptop!
Click here ...
So as the strip continues, be prepared for further undisciplined behaviour from Bonk, Liz, Aadila, Ben, Ranj, Val, and their guests. I will try and exercise some editorial control, but as Colin Hambrook, DAO Editor, knows from past experience (especially with me!), I don't hold out much hope!