Art critic Emily Rueggeberg reviews Box Tickers, a mini podcast created in partnership with Art with Heart featuring 13 artists who explore what the future looks like for everyone, especially vulnerable groups ten years after the Equality Act. The episodes also imagine accessibility in a post-pandemic world.
Look, 2020 was a tough year for everyone. Businesses closed, people’s livelihoods suffered, we lost loved ones, and as isolation stretched into months, loneliness set in. As the pandemic enters into its 11th month, it is clear that few are affected more than vulnerable groups. The pandemic laid bare the inequalities disabled and other communities face and how they grew as we were left with fewer resources at our disposal. Box Tickers, hosted by Sarah Emmott and Rachel Moorhouse gives people from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to share their experiences of why the Equality Act is just as necessary as it was at its inception ten years ago. Rather than acting as contributors or guests, the 13 artists take centre stage in the podcast. In contrast with much of the genre, Emmott and Moorhouse take the backseat for much of each episode, giving the artists the space to share their experiences as disabled, neurodiverse, trans, pregnant and Muslim individuals.
Box Tickers actively avoids casting the artists through the conventionally accepted lens of tragedy and victimhood. Rather, it empowers the speakers, enabling listeners to understand their experiences in witty, heartbreaking and often funny ways.
The series begins with a tongue-in-cheek guided meditation by Connor A touting all the usual ways breathwork and mindfulness will improve one’s life: improved mental and physical health, a clearer mind and a sense of peace. I can’t help but be reminded of the meme where two individuals are speaking and one confesses to the other, ‘I’m depressed.’ The other replies with something along the lines, ‘well stop being depressed,’ or ‘manifest the life you want through good vibes.’ The final box is of the depressed individual smiling with a thumbs up saying, ‘wow I’m cured!’ There are countless variations of this, but the point being, when non-disabled people make these comments, it places the blame on the individual as the main factor for their ‘problems’.
One way people are trying to change the narrative surrounding disability is through the social model of disability. The social model sees the difficulties disabled individuals face as societally imposed rather than on account of their condition(s). There is also little nuance in how disability is discussed in mainstream conversations, leaving many disabled people left out.
Moorhouse says, ‘We portray disabled people in such extremes, like you’re paralysed, you’re a paralympian. It’s one or the other. We think more generally that disability equals wheelchair or blue badges. But also, we’ll still fill the accessible toilet with chairs so that anyone who actually uses a wheelchair can’t use it anyway. We’re not aware of so much within disability.’
Box Tickers discusses the intersections that exist within disability as well as outside of it, exploring how each of us contain multitudes including identifying as LGBTQ+, a person of colour or Muslim, and yet, are more than the labels placed on us. When we think about a single identifying factor, whether it be visible like a hijab or one’s skin colour, or hidden like one’s gender identity or mental health, it’s important to understand that these identities or characteristics may not be the main things defining them.
Emmott and Moorhouse say, ‘This pandemic has lifted the curtain and shown us we can do things differently. We didn’t need to deny disabled people access to work because they couldn’t access the office; that working hours can be flexible and exist beyond the 9-5; that without childcare our whole system falls down. This shows us how very different the world could have been.’
Emmott and Moorhouse go on to discuss how every brain is different, and expecting everyone to conform to the same work patterns, behaviour and concentration levels is quite unreasonable. Emmott says, ‘I’m sorry but we’re not all built for that actually.’
‘Here, in the UK, neurodivergent people are still being forced to fit into a world that isn’t built for them and that’s bizarre. Because, just imagine how productive and friendly the world would be if everyone was encouraged to do things in a way that works for them. Imagine how much nicer society would be if people weren’t shamed or made to feel different if everyone were to understand in a different way.’
Everyone has the potential to achieve their goals given the proper environments. Emmott says that even though her ADHD means she can’t keep still for long periods of time and gets distracted easily, she can do multiple things at once and in the right environment, can knock out a to-do list in no time.
The 2010 Equality Act set the legal framework for protection of vulnerable individuals based on ten characteristics including: sexual orientation, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, race and parenthood.
These days there is much evidence of pay gaps and power imbalances cisgendered women face in the workplace, but there is still much to be said about how parenthood adds an additional layer of difficulty for mothers in the workforce. One story by Gemma Green explores how pregnant womxn are being left at the mercy of their HR departments and are in need of additional protections besides what their workplace offers.
Throughout her pregnancy and after giving birth, Green journaled the discrimination she faced during and after her pregnancy and how it affected both her career prospects and mental health. One excerpt reads: ‘Monday 17 of January. So it’s post-baby and I’m back at work. I’ve had almost all my responsibilities stripped from me and I’ve been left with the more basic jobs. This is exactly what I was worried about as it will affect my bonus and my pay raise next year.’
Green says, ‘The needs of working mothers have been completely ignored during this pandemic and as many others have warned, we are now seeing they are the first to go when jobs are cut. The crisis in the childcare sector has been growing for years but now, it is at breaking point. For businesses to survive they need to harness the talents and skills and experience of all employees.’
Box Tickers strikes a positive tone overall, acknowledging the flaws and gaps in laws and acts like the Equality Act created to protect vulnerable groups, while reflecting on the progress made. Emmott and Moorhouse frame 2020 not as a lost year or one of missed opportunities, but one full of potential. ‘Now we’re in the space between the old and the new…We’re rebuilding the new world.’
Box Tickers podcast series can be heard via the Art with Heart website.