Give and Tate

You may have noticed I’ve been a bit quiet of late but don’t worry, it’s not because I’ve run out of steam – in fact it’s been because everything’s been going flat out over the last few weeks. In a few days we’ll be taking Backstage in Biscuit Land off around the world again, to Bosnia, Ireland and Australia. I’ve also been doing a lot of talking!

This evening we were at the official launch of the incredible Tate Exchange programme at Tate Modern where I’d been asked to share a story about one of my favourite exchanges.

All the speakers took it in turn to talk and perform in response to the same question. Tony Heaton who’s the Chief Executive at Shape Arts was one of them. Tony’s a fellow wheelchair user and is incredibly insightful when it comes to discussing disability culture.

Tony’s talk, which was accompanied by a performance from artist Aaron Williamson, was powerful and thought-provoking. As soon as he’d finished I went straight over and asked if he’d mind me sharing it on the blog. Without a moment’s hesitation he passed me the sheet he’d been reading from, saying of course I could use it. So here, with kind permission, is Tony’s reflection on the words give and take:

 

Disabled artists create work that cannot be made by anyone else, it’s unique and we give you that….

Please let us know when you want to take advantage of this unique creative offer…

Disabled artists give society a different view on the world, and show that disability itself, as a social phenomenon, is political, and intellectually interesting….

Please let us know when you would like to take advantage of this and engage with us on an intellectual and political level…

Disabled people give you a more appropriate paradigm of everyone’s contemporary experience than existing fantasies of autonomous, perfect ‘able’ bodies.

Give this some thought, before falling for the super-human, Super Crips versus scrounger rhetoric …

Disabled people want to take an inclusive part in society…

Society knows this, but gives it little thought, as it continues to exclude by creating physical, social and psychological barriers.

To be included, disabled people give advice on physical access to buildings, public transport and accessible communications…

Society is aware of this advice and guidance, but nevertheless takes little notice and continues to exclude, whilst providing tantalising glimpses of the possibility that inclusion could be given, if it was taken seriously …

Society gives disabled people one wheelchair space on the bus…

Disabled people therefore take no-one with them, who may be a lover, friend or a fellow wheelchair using passenger…

Society gives disabled people disability benefits…

Disabled people take this poverty-line payment, but call it compensation for a disabling world – it’s not a benefit…

Disabled people are given abuse, take abuse, and disability hate crime is reported as significantly increasing…

Our Government now gives disabled people regular PIP, that’s Personal Independence Payment assessments, a mass, mandatory, reassessment of all disabled people, to make sure they are disabled enough. Our taxes pay for this, and this is what the Government means when it says it is giving even more money to be spent on disabled people…

Between 400 and 500 adapted cars, powered wheelchairs, and scooters are being taken away from disabled people every week –independence gone – with a maximum of seven weeks to hand your lifeline back. As an insight into the logic, let alone empathy, in this system, that’s notably less time than it takes to go to appeal or even to get the results of mandatory reconsideration – meaning the Department of Work and Pensions’s ruling can be overturned, but the disabled person’s car or wheelchair will already have been taken away…

At the last count, 60% of appeals against PIP were successful) giving rise to the belief that this reform is a disaster for disabled people. (But you probably don’t know about it because the media would rather report on Bake Off)…

Disabled people have to take part in these demeaning assessments, even though they have been told by the medical profession that their amputated limbs won’t ever re-grow, that there is no cure for their spinal injury, and that their visual impairment is progressive, meaning it will worsen rather than improve. 2 in 5 respondents report being sent to inaccessible assessment centres for their disability reassessment…!

The good news…

Disability is an open and welcoming club; the older you get, the more likely you are to join us, and we will take you in and give you a very warm welcome!

 

I took heart from hearing Tony talk with such clarity and strength in such a prominent space. At a time when hard-won equalities are being dismantled at a rapid rate, and disabling barriers are increasing at a similar speed, it’s essential that we take advantage of opportunities to connect diverse audiences with the reality of what’s happening politically, with disability culture, and with the exciting possibilities of taking action together.

I’m looking forward to telling you a lot more about Tate Exchange in the coming months!

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