Watch the Sins 2009 online, and why.

Sins Invalid, An Unashamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility.

Sins Invalid is one of my favorite American projects, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a performance based collective ‘that incubates and celebrates’ artists with disabilities, particularly ‘artists of color and queer and gender-variant, as communities who have historically been marginalized.’ In 2009, I was fortunate enough to be in the audience of one of their shows, which so happens to be available online with small donation of $2, between now and the 11th August. For all UK viewers who are unfamiliar with their work, if I’m guessing correctly, you might know of Mat Fraser, who makes an appearance in this show.

I wholeheartedly recommend this film. I can’t simply say I enjoyed it, which of course I did, but the skilled way in which it evokes a deep rooted emotion in me negates such niceties. Watching the show I was confronted with new ideas about both disability and sexuality. Whilst discussing the experience of the disabled body, I noted how I objectified this body then, even being guilty of locating it within the medical gaze. For me, Sins Invalid has the ability to ask questions about identity politics, freeing the body up from the confines of the medical discourse, showing, instead bodies that are complex. Patricia Berne, one of the co-founders, states:

We weren’t seeing folks who were holding the complexity of our identities — as people of color, as queer, as people impacted by male supremacy, as people with disabilities — all in one place. We wanted to create a space that could hold all of who we are, where we wouldn’t be the token person of color, or the token person with a disability, or the token queer person (not that Leroy is queer — he’s an ally).

The quote above, taken from Huffington Post’s article ‘When it Comes to Sex, Are Your Sins Invalid?’ offers a good comparison between disability justice and social justice more broadly. Such a progressive discussion breaks away from mere tokenism; significantly embodying the human experience.

To view the show click on the following link: Watch the Sins now!

The opportunity of adversity (?)

The opportunity of adversity

In Mullins 2009 TED talk, she said: ‘The conversation with society has changed profoundly in the last decade. It is no longer a conversation about overcoming deficiency. It’s a conversation about augmentation; it’s a conversation about potential. A prosthetic limb does not represent the need to replace the loss anymore. It can stand as a symbol that the wearer has the power to recreate whatever it is and they want to create in that space, so that people society once considered to be disabled can now become architects of their own identities.’

The one simple question I ask, who has access to this?

Join the hunt for average Joe

Join the hunt for average Joe

Everyone’s heard of Average Joe, but has anyone ever met him?
What does he look like and how does he act?
Is he even a he?
And could you be Average Joe?

This image is a part of Niet Normaal, a new exhibition which explores what is and isn’t normal through the work of cutting edge contemporary artists.

This show finished in 2010, good news, the show is being run at Liverpool as part of a disability Art festival DaDaFest. Find out more here: http://www.dadafest.co.uk/the-festival/niet-normaal/

Jerry’s Orphans: Piss on Pity

Jerry Lewis, you’re not funny,
You’re using people to raise money!

Stop the pity, stop the lies,
Stop to think — don’t patronize!

(Chants taken from http://www.cripcommentary.com/LewisVsDisabilityRights.html)

The short film The Kids are Alright is based on Jerry’s Orphans, a group of disability rights activists. The activists are protesting against the ‘pity approach’ which is used by the annual event the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Labor Day Telethon.  The pity approach adopted by the Telethon proved to be the antithesis of everything that the disability civil rights movement was trying to achieve. In this circumstance it was evident that pity prevents empowerment.  Mike, a disability activist within this film is trying to break away from his image of a 1960s poster child.

The poster child image can be seen as problematic for an adult with a disability. The “tiny Tim” evokes the idea of a pathetic and helpless individual, indeed a perfect candidate for pity.

The audience failed to grasp that there is a wider structural system such as medical healthcare that has failed these children. As Mike states in the film:

“Why is our mobility and quality of life so unimportant that we have to resort to these lengths just to get the support we need? That tells you quite a bit about how much America cares.”

Suggesting that the poster child is no more than their disability, reduced to a token figure of pity in order to appeal to the audience’s conscience and commodified in order to produce goods. The audience members of the telethon are contributing towards this disempowerment. Rather than focusing on social policy changes that would enable these children to be mobile and independent of their own accord, in this situation they can only gain independence through the receipt of pity and gifts from others.

Text in the above image: “Jerry Lewis says ‘You don’t want to be pitied for being a cripple in wheelchair, stay in your house’ Fuck You Jerry!!

Mike and the ‘Jerry’s Orphans’ are depicted in the film as forming a united front, showing scenes of a barrage of wheelchairs breaking through security barriers, chanting “No more pity!”  Mike asserts that he in fact pities those who pity him, his pragmatic attitude and supports the film’s underlying themes that control over the lives of disabled people should originate with those who are affected by it, placing people with disabilities at the helm of disability organization.

Finally, the film shows Mike in an interview, discussing at length the injustice he felt was committed by Jerry Lewis; demonstrating his personal dislike of Lewis’s tactics. Mike quoted Jerry’s article regarding his attempts to empathize with people with disabilities, in order to show that Jerry was reducing people with disabilities as a ‘half a person’:

When I sit back and think a little more rationally, I realize my life is half, so I must learn to do things halfway. I just have to learn to try to be good at being half a person. I may be a full human being in my heart and soul, yet I am still half a person.

People I showed this film to found this part particularly disturbing. It was considered to be problematic that someone who was the ambassador of an organization raising money for people with muscular dystrophy might hold this position that disabled people are somehow ‘half a person’. Instead of empowering disabled people, Jerry Lewis’s actions and comments debilitates the representation of disabled people’s identity.

In 2011, it was announced that Lewis will step down as national chairman of the MDA.

To find out more about Jerry’s Orphans, you can access the full film here: http://www.thekidsareallright.org/watch.html

GoodBye CP!

Day 2: I have selected a number of stills from Kazuo Hara’s documentary film: Goodbye CP! (1972).  As each image communicates independently, I’m going to deliberately omit any subjective, personal analysis. All I will say is that this simple collection clearly asserts: ‘Hara wants you to stop looking and truly see‘. This film is based on a small community of people living with CP – cerebral palsy. (Full length feature can be found here: http://vimeo.com/24199126)

The Politics of the Third Toilet

Recently the Broken of Britain blogged Personal Responsibility: The IDS Way – “Someone Told Me I Could” ,in which it provided a damning account of Iain Duncan Smith using a disabled toilet. The writer notes the ‘universal’ pictogram of the wheelchair symbol, the very one that is supposed to encapsulate all types of disability. However, as this symbol doesn’t explicitly represent people with disabilities who don’t use a wheelchair, those people with other disabilities – especially invisible disabilities – come to be excluded. Who, in that case, can judge who is entitled to use the ‘disabled’ loo? Who knows, maybe IDS has a hidden disability: IBS, perhaps?!. One commentator rightly observes that the disabled sign “usually denotes that the toilet is adapted for wheelchair users, it doesn’t specifically bar anyone else from using it.” I have to admit, though, with no pun intended, I too would be pissed if I had to wait to use an ‘adapted toilet’ that was suitable for my needs. Laying personal inconvenience and bad jokes aside, however, and getting to the crux of the argument: what if we removed the exclusivity of the disabled toilet, and instead encouraged inclusiveness? Toileting, after all, is a universal experience.This is currently not the case in the UK. Due to inaccessibility, especially outside large-scale commercial settings, toileting is far from being a universal experience. Militant Crip activists would argue that separate ‘disabled’ toilets signify an undesirable rhetoric of the third gender, and the  attribution of a sexuality that is mostly in line with asexuality. The LGBT community has been quick to flag up these issues in response to transgender encounters, or ‘political epiphanies’, within the public restroom. In 2005, The New York Times’ A Quest for a Restroom That’s Neither Men’s Room Nor Women’s Room discusses the de-gendering of public restrooms and reveals that public bathrooms have become a ‘cultural “fault line”’. In this article, Professor Case points out that there are few remaining spaces that are divided by sex: “there’s marriage and there’s toilets, and very little else,” he claims.  The gender division of public spaces is further antagonised by the situation which arises if a person with a disability needs assistance from a member of the opposite sex. This provides a testimony of the complex social situation arising from toilets that are segregated by both gender and ability.

In major American cities like San Francisco and New York it’s very common to find one toilet for all. The female/male/person in a wheelchair is seen to transgress the boundaries of perceived gender or ability, moving towards a universal experience.  A substitute teacher from Fremont insists, “bathrooms are about biology, not perceived gender.”# My own experience in San Francisco has showed me that it has become common practice, especially in social settings like bars and restaurants, for public restrooms to be indeed inclusive. There, I was no longer faced with non-disabled people’s embarrassment if they were seen to be using ‘the disabled people’’s toilets.

As tempting as it is to berate politicians like Iain Duncan Smith, this type of diatribe is only going to enforce the binary of differences. Instead of attacking his ignorance, one should take this opportunity to educate and begin new conversations. In the segregation of public toilets by gender or ability, an undesirable hierarchy is reinforced. Even though it is widely seen to be unacceptable for ‘non-disabled’ people to use disabled toilets, let’s have conversation about liberal loos.