My Research trip to Reykjavik: ‘othered’ bodies and The Toilet

Our new animation, The Toilet is on tour!   A few weeks ago, the tour began as Dr Jenny Slater (Reader in Education & Disability Studies) and I travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland for our animation’s WORLD PREMIERE. 

Over the next year, we will be taking conversations of toilets, disability, gender and access to grassroots disability and queer arts and activist spaces internationally to different spaces, including film festivals and activist groups.

This blog post summarises the event:

Activists in Reykjavik launch the new Around the Toilet film

Street Game project: Box Society

Boxes

Over the past few months I been a member of the design team for Box Society – a Full Circle Arts and Playfuel collaborative street game project.  Playfuel aim to “bring together theatre performance and urban geography”, and together we have been making a light hearted but thought provoking game which addresses disabling barriers and #everydayableism.

Boxes

The ‘play test’ for Box Society took place in March 2016 with Proud and Loud theatre group, and the public game will be premiered in Manchester City Centre this summer.

Watch this space for further information about this fantastic new street game!

 


 

To read more about the background to this project please see Jade Coles blog post here.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 12.58.25

UKDHM 2015: In discussion with Disability rights pioneer Lorraine Gradwell, MBE

UKDHM
As today marks the start of UKDHM (UK Disability History Month from 22 November to 22 December), I sum up and reflect on my interview with Lorraine Gradwell, MBE.

Known to many as a leading disability rights ‘veteran campaigner’, she has worked within the disabled people’s movement for over 35 years.

BackgrounD

Lorraine, now in her 60s, came to disability politics through her involvement in paraplegic sports – particularly the Manchester Disabled Athletes club in the 1980s.

It was here that she met the highly influential disabled activist, Neville Strowger. She and Neville became close friends and, with others, worked together to set up GMCDP (Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People) – one of the first organisations of disabled people in the UK. In its heyday,

GMCDP was instrumental in creating positive change for disabled people both in Manchester and throughout the UK. Lorraine was their Deputy chair, then Chair, then development worker and eventually their first team leader in 1987. She was later CEO of Breakthrough UK (1997 – 2013). Though now semi-retired Lorraine is a Member of the co-production group at Coalition for Collaborative Care.

Trailblazers and Cabbies

In her role as GMCDP’s team leader, Lorraine campaigned around a number of issues – the Disability Discrimination Act, the role of big charities, independent living and accessible transport. She also helped to set up the Equalities Unit in Manchester City Council.

Lorraine and her team’s lobbying made Manchester the first city with Black Cabs that were accessible to disabled people. Campaingers persuaded Manchester City Council that one hundred new licenses were to be issued to Black Cab licenses on the condition that the cabs were made accessible.

Access statement for black cabs

“We used to get cab drivers coming in and talking to us about the campaign .   Some drivers got the new license but didn’t make their cab accessible which ended up going to the court of appeal in London – to uphold Manchester’s stipulation”

independent living

She also worked with Greater Manchester Housing Disability Group and the academic June Maeltzer, to set up the first informal independent living scheme. 

June worked with the Irwell Family Housing Association to get an agreement that the funding for ‘local authority carers’ would go into a trust that was managed jointly between her and the Irwell HA.  At that time, it wasn’t legal for a local authority to give funding directly to an individual, whether they were disabled or not. June was one of the first users of direct payments – before the legislation was even in place.

With pioneers like Lorraine, Neville and June, Manchester was building a strong reputation as good place to live if you were a young disabled activist.

Baroness Jane Campbell (left) Lorraine Gradwell, MBE (right)

“The slogan ‘nothing about us without us’ was never as well established as was in Manchester where Lorraine’s insight and campaigning methodology was embraced wholeheartedly.” – Baroness Jane Campbell

The current climate

Lorraine and I discussed the contrast between the ‘rights based’ campaigning of last twenty years, and the current ‘benefits based’ campaigning.

Lorraine can see why campaigns around benefits and austerity are needed, but feels they need to focus more on societal structures, rather than disabled peoples perceived vulnerabilities.

She doesn’t think that it’s helpful for a movement to be making their ‘vulnerability’ a central plank of their campaign – it’s better to talk about our fundamental rights and the need for those to be addressed.

For me this has a particular resonance as my current photography project, Hanging in the Balance, is about being made vulnerable due to the current austerity measures. – in this context is it OK to embrace and focus on our vulnerability?

Like me, she welcomes the push that DPAC (Disabled People Against the Cuts) have made towards getting a UN investigation into the governments sanctions. She says, “All the rights based issues have gone on the back burner a bit … six, seven years ago it was very much about rights …it was about inclusion, barrier free work, independent living, etc. All that has gone by the wayside in just a short period of time, and it alarms me how quickly it can get unrolled.”

In the area of employment, for example, she says the perceptions around disabled people have taken a massive turn for the worst. During her role as Chief Executive of Breakthrough she sat on the Disability Employment Advisory Committee – a government body that focused on matters to do with disability and employment.

The ConDem Coalition immediately disbanded those types of committees, with no real replacement.  This represented a change in ideology, and the shrinking of the public sector – which has had a massive knock on effect on disabled peoples’ organisations.

DISABILITY AND WORK

Lorraine points out that Breakthrough’s ethos was very much around providing the support to disabled people who could work, not about forcing ill people into work.

The current government doesn’t seem to understand the relationship between being disabled and work. She feels that the way disabled people get portrayed as being either a burden or a scrounger is nothing more than a big scapegoating exercise.

This, she feels, is very dangerous particularly alongside the whole push towards assisted suicide and the creeping privatization of the NHS.   Assisted suicide fundamentally changes the relationship between doctor and patient overturning two thousand years of the Hippocratic Oath – do no harm.

She recalls reading about a woman in Oregon being refused cancer treatment by her insurance company because it was expensive, but they said she could have assisted suicide because that was cheaper. A health service driven by financial decisions and what would be cheaper is not about helping people at all.

“It’s not being sensationalist to describe it as state sanctioned killing, and once you’ve got state sanctioned killing, where’s it going to go? In Belgium assisted suicide applies to children. There’s no stopping it once it’s on the statute books.”

KEEPING DISABILITY RIGHTS ON THE AGENDA

From NHS provided health to access to work schemes, disabled people are once again fighting at the front line. Though the recent cuts may have had a direct impact on the capacity of both Breakthrough UK and GMCDP, they both continue to campaign, and provide much needed support for disabled people.

I am aware of criticisms levelled at veteran campaigners from younger disability rights activists, but perhaps rather than blaming them for perceived failings within their campaigns, we should champion them for their drive and continued commitment to ongoing change and to keeping discussions about disability rights on the political agenda.DPAC

Lorraine Gradwell’s book of collected works ‘A Life Raft in a Stormy Sea’ is available to purchase online.


Original post written in 2015.

Sadly, Lorraine Gradwell died on the 3rd September 2017.

On Saturday 3rd March 2018, Jackie Driver, Chief Executive of Breakthrough UK, and Jenny Gradwell, Daughter of the late Lorraine Gradwell, launched the Trust Lorraine Foundation. The Foundation is a joint project between the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and Breakthrough UK to increase local disabled people’s representation in elected office.

 

Participants wanted for ‘Hanging in the Balance’ arts-activism

As disabled people, we have a deep sense of threat and despair about our future: a future that ‘hangs in the balance’.

Are you a disabled person who feels like your life is currently hanging in the balance?

 

Draft wet plate version 15.8.15
Draft wet plate ‘Hanging in the Balance’ image        M.Selway 15.8.15.  Follow the project at #hanginginthebalance

To symbolise the regressive affects of welfare reform and fragility of our existence, I am working with historical photographer Michele Selway to produce ‘Hanging in the Balance’.

‘Hanging in the Balance’ is an ethereal set of wet plate photographs of disability related paraphernalia hanging ominously in the trees.

Inspired by Liz Crow’s ‘Figures’ this project will carry on highlighting the deeply troubling effect of austerity through art activism.

Follow Gemma’s board #hanginginthebalance on Pinterest.

 

I would like to accompany these plates with statements from disabled people highlighting how their lives are hanging in the balance.

If you would like to contribute, please email info@gemmanashartist.com with your statement by 1st November 2015, and let me know whether you are happy for your name to be used with your quote.

 

Thank you,

Gemma Nash

#hanginginthebalance

“Austerity exists in other countries, but no other countries to my knowledge has targeted disabled people in the way that the UK government has.” 
– Simon J Duffy, director of The Centre of Welfare Reform.

 

“My life is hanging in the balance because the fragile security I felt I had built up over the years has gone completely …. all the practical arrangements I have been able to rely on are uncertain.” – Liz Crow, Artist