I haven’t written a Disability Arts Online blog in a small age, (almost a year), a re-occurring bout of cellulitis and the demands of actually writing a thesis have made this so. I felt a blog was in order, because in terms of the time allotted, I am reaching the halfway point of my thesis, and I have to pass what is known in the trade as a Transfer Viva. I must, as part of the process, put forward a mock defence of my philosophical ideas, and submit a report detailing the work done to date. So far, I’ve drafted two chapters, and written a 90,000-word Journal based upon my life experience as a human, and a disabled woman living in Britain today.
Of all the things I have written during the course of my studies, my chapter on access and the environment feels like one of the most personally and socially important, and perhaps the most relevant to the remit of DAO, who aim to increase access to the arts for deaf and disabled people and increase inclusivity throughout society more broadly.
Here are a few interesting titbits from my writings and from the chapter itself:
I have had too many poor experiences and experienced too much discrimination due to absence of access, organisation of environments, and the attitudes of others not to pen something on the subject. The implicit and often explicit message of the environment is that as disabled people our citizenship is at best sporadic and partial, and often, we are comprehensively excluded. The social devaluation of the disabled self is reflected to varying degrees in a range of environments and social locations. Disability autobiographies and my journal are replete with examples of the variable nature of access and the resulting implications:
As the example from my journal shows I am frustrated that segregation is common practice were arenas and venues are concerned, unlike non-disabled patrons, I have little or no choice as to where I sit in an arena, as, more often than not, wheelchair users are segregated in one area of the arena, often quite far from what we have paid to see. In my view this is a further representation of inequality, of our partial and sporadic inclusion, because our access to spaces, where we can be in a particular venue, is mediated and controlled by what others perceive as acceptable or safe, which is for me a reoccurring source of frustration, and I am particularly concerned that in the commercial sector segregation and distancing of this kind is regarded as best practice, with some arenas marketing themselves as fully accessible:
My visits to various live wrestling shows are a well documented aspect of this journal, but I have to say that my enjoyment of the live product, which I have been watching since I was a child, is being steadily eroded by the fact that I am paying increasingly larger amounts of money to sit further and further away from the show I have paid to see … why should the fears of others, most often expressed through health and safety interpretation and stadium design, take precedence over the rights of wheelchair users and other disabled people to be in a particular space? I am, as a result of a plethora of spoiled evenings, some of which are documented in this journal, and many more which are not, going to give serious consideration to any future ticket purchases, largely due to the number of shitty experiences I have had (2015: 82).
(NB since writing this piece I have encountered a number of venues that I cannot attend at all, due to the complete absence of access. It often feels, based on my experiences, that the legislation contained within the Equality Act is not being robustly enforced).
This example From Harriet McBryde Johnson’s autobiography Too Late to Die Young, illustrates the value of being accessible and inclusive:
After a good meal, we wonder around a touristic riverfront development and wind up on a tour boat. It’s accessible and no one stops us or ask us for money, so we roll on. We don’t realise until we set out that the boat been chartered by Democrats. Some guys give us signs and instructions to wave them and cheer loud. Hillary Clinton is arriving in a tall ship-and we are in her escort flotilla. It’s awfully silly but dutifully we wave and cheer. In spite of ourselves, we get excited when we spot the First Lady-look! (2006: 116).
Where inclusion, where substantive access exists, impairment is an irrelevant characteristic, where there are ramps, extra space, accessible toilets, good, flexible, understanding human support, where there is access to practical, useful technology, people with impairments can simply be themselves. In this example, the simple and basic solution of a ramp allows Harriet to enjoy a boat trip, she doesn’t have to think, organise or plan everything, she can just be and take pleasure in the scenery, environment and company.
Lastly, one of the many reasons I am writing my thesis in the first place, is that I have had difficulty getting even my most basic of support needs met, it would, for example, be quite nice to be able to have some personal assistance or support that wasn’t delivered by someone related to me. Currently my difficulties in terms of accessing services, have meant that I am crowdfunding in order to pay for my physio. If you understand and feel like donating or sharing, many thanks. A link to my page is below: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/lisa-davies-174
Johnson, H. M. (2006) Too Late to Die Young: Nearly True Tales from a Life. New York: Picador.