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Blog - Richard Butchins

Disabled is the new able / 30 September 2015

An image of the torso of a man sporting a variety of labels such as 'average', 'awkward', 'dribbler', 'overcome'. He wears a stethoscope attached to his chest

Rowan James’s Easy for You to Say was performed at the day of IF talks: If Not Now When

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…


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Alan Morrison
4 years ago

Colin / 19 October 2015 The world is structured so that everything and everyone becomes ‘commodified’ to a greater and greater extent. To coin a Mark Stewart lyric from the 80s: “we are all prostitutes; everyone has their price.” We are born all but covered in cellophane; our children’s fingerprints are digitised by the age of 11 years to process school meal payments. Digitisation is moving us increasingly towards a world where we are mapped, labeled and tagged from an early age: and disability is one aspect of that process. Grayson Perry hit the nail on the head when he… Read more »

Alan Morrison
4 years ago

Richard Butchins / 1 October 2015

Cornelia – of course, you are right – there is an element of irony that I hoped to express….

Alan Morrison
4 years ago

Cornelia Broesskamp / 30 September 2015 Not sure whether you have to put the responsibility at your own door entirely. I think this is the perversity of capitalism using every possibility to create profit. And active, empowered people are also more likely to be active consumers – of clothes, entertainment, technology. Think of the efforts made by the music industry to create better accessible venues, festivals etc – part of the motivation is the that they are attracting more paying customers. Maybe it is also a more hopeful sign of ‘callibrating’ a new ‘normal’ – which includes disabled people in… Read more »

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