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Is the only time Cripplies get a look into `mainstream’ arts when we’re ‘spilling the beans’ about impairment? / 16 October 2015

Caroline Bowditch eating a slice of watermelon

Caroline Bowditch's 'Falling in Love with Frida'. Image © Anthony Hopwood

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I seem to have seen more shows in recent months than I’ve done in quite a while! The most recent, which I’ve genuinely loved, being Jess Thom’s 'Backstage in Biscuitland' and Caroline Bowditch’s 'Falling in love with Frida'.  

In both I’ve had moments of being caught up sharp, as if by red flashing lights when things have started to go all ‘Medical Modelly’. It feels to me that all of a sudden we come to a section intended as the `educational’ for non-disabled people bit all about impairment! But is this just me having perhaps an over-sensitive reaction?

I was recently informed by a Tribal Elder from DPAC that the Social Model of Disability does not automatically rule out discussing impairment; it’s how it’s done, context etc.  

As you Dear Readers may know, I’ve been formerly critical of autobiographical/ impairment laden work by disabled artists. Have I been wrong in this? It has felt to me that the only time Cripplies get a look into `mainstream’ arts, is when we’re ‘spilling the beans’ and the private becomes public. That’s absolutely fine, if that’s what the artist intends for the piece.  

Artists like Penny Pepper with her spoken word show ‘Lost in Spaces’, was totally up-front about this, as was Liz Carr with ‘It hasn’t Happened Yet’; both of these pieces included some reference to impairment. Do others perhaps feel pressured into impairment talk in order to be more `marketable’ to venues? Or is it purely personal choice?

It’s certainly better that we tell our own stories – Nothing About Us etc. as a way of countering Tragic over Brave – than having others tell tales for us and does it in fact only tell half the story if we exclude impairment from work all together? Shows like Robert S-Gales 'Spasms...' have successfully opened that Pandora Box for non disabled audiences whilst Scope’s 'End the Awkward' campaign has proved controversial for many, including myself. Are there parallels to be found in LBGT and / or Black Arts?

So here comes my Flashing Red Light revelationary bit!  Part of my reluctance to tell any (usually non-d) person about my impairment, stems from all the baggage being labelled brittle has caused in my life; from my Mum being looked at as if she were a Bad Brittley Mum because she didn’t know exactly how many fractures I’d had (and me being a crap one for not having counted; tho’ of course no one expected my Dad to know!), through fear of interpretation of that label and being refused an interview at one Uni, years ago until I attended a Medical (it never happened!), to just recently being asked for a doctor’s letter before I could even `have a chat’ with a Personal Trainer about the possibility of some supposedly disability friendly gymn sessions!

Truth is I’ve always resisted any impairment related discussion, yet here I am, getting it all out...