I’ve been to the writer’s festival in the past, so it was gratifying to be involved as a writer/performer and moderator this year, with a focus on inclusivity and my work in Disability arts and culture. After spending several decades trying to get past gate-keepers and a crip’ foot in the door, it was a delight to be welcomed and listed as one of the highlights of this international gathering. I gave a few lectures and public talks, reiterating how important disabled-led work is and also reflecting on the power and responsibilities of language. The festival’s theme was ‘A language of our own’ and we discussed how language can heal and hurt – my particular focus was on recent practice amongst politicians and the media in the UK, where language has been used to dehumanise those with difference and normalise disability hate crimes. As I said in my lecture at the festival:
Our voices, our languages, our modes of communication, our perspectives, our experiences – our lives – are important. Being invited to present on prestigious platforms like this is essential and hugely appreciated – in our contemporary situation, in the UK and elsewhere we are witnessing the systematic dehumanisation of disabled people by the government and the state. Brutal benefit cuts under the auspices of austerity were described on 16 November 2017 by the British Medical Journal – not a publication known for its sensationalism – as “economic murder” – with a reported 120,000 deaths caused directly by the current British government’s austerity policies. The removal of services, access and support for the disabled and Deaf communities have been coupled with deeply negative and damaging media narratives which in turn create an atmosphere where abuse, prejudice and violence is further normalised. In the UK, disability hate crime is on the increase – on Weds 9th October 2019 The Independent newspaper reported how violent crime against disabled individuals in England and Wales had increased by 41%, and offences with online element, up by 71%. We need to keep challenging the negative propaganda, the lies, offering diverse perspectives, with alternative expressions of what it is to be human, celebrating all the possibilities of human variety.
I am hugely grateful to the festival’s director Pooja Nansi for her innovative and inclusive programming. Thank you, Pooja, for giving a platform for such important discussions to take place.
Now that I am back in Wales, further conversations about disability and difference will flourish in my collaboration with historian Prof. David Turner as one of the Creativity Fellows at Swansea University, initiated by writer and Professor in Creativity Owen Sheers. We launch this Friday, 15th November:
The Creativity Fellowships are an exciting new initiative that offers two professional artists the chance to engage with and explore cutting-edge academic research at Swansea University.
Owen Sheers said:
‘I’m so pleased to be getting these Fellowships off the ground with two such talented and exciting artists. I hope they and their academic partners will have a fascinating year of collaboration and exploration, which also promises to be a powerful engine for furthering a vibrant conversation between the sciences and the arts at the University and in the wider community.’
Professor David Turner commented:
‘I am thrilled at the prospect of working with Kaite O’Reilly to bring the histories of disabled people to life. Kaite’s commitment to empowering disabled people through the creative arts will provide new and exciting ways of connecting the struggles of disabled people in the past with the experiences of people today.’
The event this Friday is free, tickets available here.
Returning from a long trip always disorientates me – it feels within moments of landing that the previous weeks were a mirage. Certainly adjusting to the temperature change alone is quite challenging – it seems unbelievable as I swaddle myself in thermals that 36 hours ago I was writing at a desk with two fans on high speed directed into my face…
So although the future work beckons – Swansea University, and a ‘Welcoming all Writers’ workshop at Small World Theatre with Chris Kinsey on 23/11/19, details below and tickets here – it is important to reflect on where we have just been.