As a disabled artist, my relationship with the arts industry has always been complicated to say the
least. I’ve come to the realisation that I am an interdisciplinary artist, on the most part by my
curiosity of working with different forms and mediums, but it cannot go ignored that this discovery
was partly prompted by the ever shape-shifting mountain of inaccessibility that plagues the sector.
My journey as an artist started off on the spoken word circuit and later developed into playwriting,
acting, directing and my first love (which began as more of a hobby), visual arts. I also spent several
years working as a theatre critic.
Navigating a world that is designed for non-disabled people is a challenge and the arts industry
functions as a microcosm of society on its broadest scale. The biggest challenge has and most likely
always will be stigma along with intertwined ableism and racism. I am very transparent about having
lived experience of interpersonal trauma, it is something that has led me to create art that is a mix of
personal, political and social commentary. The industry claims to be diverse and inclusive on the
whole, but if I had a pound for every time a fellow artist made a comment about my “mental health
issues”, I’d never need to make an application for an arts council grant to fund my work ever again.
Intertwined ableism and racism is very much at work here with the ‘mad Black woman’ trope rearing
it’s head. The ‘laziness’ trope also comes into play when awareness of my having chronic fatigue
syndrome comes into play: negative racial stereotyping of equating Blackness with laziness and
ableism positioning chronic fatigue syndrome as nothing more than laziness. It is tiring to manage
and a minefield to navigate. However, I stand by my decision to make art because I have something
to say. Disabled narratives of colour continue to remain dismissed and unheard across the industry
and more widely in society. So, I tell stories, through text or visuals, that very rarely get any airtime
and find places that want to disrupt the status quo. As for my navigational approach to the industry,
it is a case of not engaging with organisations and buildings who perceive my disabilities to be a
problem – it is often possible to take an educated guess about this by looking at programming (do
they actively work with disabled artists), asking for an access form (and finding they don’t even have
one), and connecting with other disabled artists to ask about their experiences. This brings me on to
my next point of finding community – finding spaces and people you connect with and having space
for a shared vision of access in the industry, as well as peer support and peer celebration – disabled
This month is disability pride month, and it is of great significance to me as it’s a time for disabled
people to come together and celebrate who we are, but if I’m honest for me every month is
disability pride month – this just happens to be spotlight month. It’s also the time I put out my
annual reminder that I’m a disabled person not a person with a disability – not all of us are here for
person first language (disabled isn’t a dirty word), so if in doubt ask before assuming. I think this
month is a useful time for people and organisations to really look hard at themselves and ask
themselves: Am I being accessible and inclusive? Do I/we support disabled artists and celebrate their
work? In what way are my/our actions maintaining ableist structures and reinforcing disempowering
narratives? It’s also a time for everyone to remember no identity exists in a vacuum, disabled people
of colour exist, queer disabled people exist; Black, queer, working class, disabled people exist along
with a myriad of other marginalised identities that are continually oppressed by society. This is the
month I often ask people to think whose voices are you not listening to, and whose are you
dismissing, and why?
And a final note, stop asking disabled people to work for free. Pay us for our time, our vision, our
work and pay us appropriately.