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Disability Arts Online

Disabled editor Colin Hambrook gives some personal reasons for wanting to advance Resonant Frequency

Series of anatomical drawings by Rachel Gadsden Rachel Gadsden

Series of anatomical drawings by Rachel Gadsden

Image: Rachel Gadsden

It has been great for dao to host the blog and to be a part of this project – it is a the heart of dao’s remit to link disabled artists and arts and other professionals together – I hope that we can help facilitate a constructive dialogue between disabled artists who are working in this area and the scientists who have vested interests in this area of work.

My work within the Disability Arts movement has grown out of an understanding and a commitment to the Social Model of Disability – a model which emphasises the right of disabled people to access, independence, freedom from stigma and negative attitudes etc. We assume that scientists come from a medical model of disability in which we are largely couched in terms of an impairment or disease seeking a cure. However we can’t overlook how much advancement in drugs, technology, communications etc. science has made.

In the week or so this blog has been online several disabled artists have contacted me with information about projects they are working on that fall within the area of art and science. So, it is clear to me that this project has hit a nerve within the disability arts community.

I’m fascinated by the idea that there could be a model of disability which encompasses all the advantages of progress and development, without the negative baggage that we have inherited from the past 300 years – that we know as the medical model of disability.

I’d like to see this collaboration between ITHACA, DAO and Science Oxford develop into a commission or a series of commissions enabling disabled artists to work directly with scientists within a discipline of their choosing which embraces our different approaches to disability, helping us to promote understanding and acceptance of where we are coming from; and what our dreams and aspirations are.

I’d like DAO’s input to be about taking a creative approach to documenting the process behind the commissions as they evolve. This could be through a series of possible events - podcasting, showcasing, setting up dialogue and interactive engagement.

I think Esther’s point about those who have power over the medical side of things not having direct experience of the impact of their work on disabled peoples’ actual lives – for negative and positive – is at the crux. The assumption that we are faced with as disabled people is always that disability is a bad thing – that mental health problems can be contained with drugs – that human beings can be perfected. It is as if humanity itself were a product that needs better packaging and better marketing.

However it is too easy for us as disabled people to get into victim mode when it comes to our relationship with science. I think Crippen’s cartoon sums up how a lot of us feel about our experience of doctors, medicine, and the scientific fraternity in general. We tend to forget how much advancement scientists have made on our behalf in terms of the things that have given us independence within our lives. This happens because so often – speaking from a personal experience – the standpoint of medicine and the actual affect of medication which is supposed to ‘help’, ‘contain’ or ‘cure’ my symptoms, always make them worse. I cannot cite a positive thing that has come out of a relationship with the psychiatric profession which has been going on and off for nearly 40 years. My mother died at the age of 60 as a direct result of a prescribed overdose of anti-psychotic medication reducing the number of white blood cells in her bloodstream leading to a heart attack. The attitude of the medical profession has always been that if "the medication hadn’t killed her the schizophrenia would have."

I’m citing this because I can see that our oppression, as disabled people, is a barrier which in some senses we have to overcome – but which we can only overcome if it is clear that our experience is understood.