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Sophie Partridge on being 'bendy' / 2 August 2013

photo of actress Sophie Partridge being crowned in an outside performance of Graeae's The Limbless Knight

The bendy Sophie Partridge stars in Graeae's 'The Limbless Knight' due to be staged on London's Southbank for the Liberty Festival in September

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Well I don't think it's controversial to say it's a tough time in Crip World right now! Surely there must be a disabled oracle somewhere that tells of the impending doom to be expected in 2015; DLA to become PIP, tax credits go `universal' and the Independent Living Fund closes...

Now that, gentle reader, IS controversial. I've been involved (surprise surprise) in the campaign to halt the ILF's closure and cause a veritable government u-turn.  We've called the campaign Because We're Worth It.. `follow us on Facebook, Twitter' etc. As a call to - quite often `little' - arms, I've tried to recruit my fellow Bendys. Certainly not all but many of us original ILF recipients (those of us still on this planet), are characterised by our very obvious impairments; our bendy/un-bendable bits! Arms, legs, spines.. you get the idea. Not for us the dilemmas of hidden impairment eg. do we declare our disability status? - use a mobility or other aid, as a positive choice etc. Those choices were never the way of the Bendy! We iz physical and sensory! Innit.

Partly I adopted the term Bendy to get away from the Crip word; because that often raises issues of elitism, Criperatti etc. Bendy is a term I personally identify with.  Yet just by using that term to signify obvious impairment was I not creating yet another in-club within the disability dysfunctional community? Accusations of elitism have arisen against us ILFers - "We're all Middle Class, White" etc.  

I went to those consultations last year with other users and I know that's simply not true. There's a view - certainly the government's - that those of us funded by the ILF have been the Chosen Few (nearly 20,000 of us actually) and that no longer should we be allowed to get away with it!  No longer should we expect to live independent lives in equalness, with those who DON'T need high levels of personal assistance. To be frank, those of us who can't wipe our own lovely bottys without support.  

It's as if by us having those rights, some deem that we have robbed others of theirs, to do so. We should therefore, all just get chucked into the hell-fires of the general Social Care pit and suffer along with every other Crip! The fact that ILF Bendys being added to the mix, with the majority of us having what Local Authorities regard as 'critical needs' that therefore have to be met - at least tokenistically - will mean a LOT less money to go around for all, seems to have been conveniently lost.

But back to Bendiness. It IS all linked - trust me! And at the start of it all, a friend felt they weren't worthy of contributing to the debate because they don't obviously Bend. That challenged me to review my thinking! I felt very strongly that this particular matey was Bendy at Heart; not fixed or rigid but open to life, impairment. Because as disabled people we're always on the outside edge, we've grown adept at shaping/bending that life to us. Being Straight isn't always about sexuality I feel, it's as much about our unwillingness and inability to conform to societal norms in every way, which takes me back to my school days!

Imagine the scene gentle reader. Little Soph aged 15 at Ye Olde Special Boarding School. Happily hiding her packets of 10 Silk Cut in her cassette-case (was that not the whole purpose of those cases?!) when one day, she forgets to close the case. Packet is spotted by fortunately benign `House Parent'! Her wise words remain with me to this day "Sophie, learn to bend the rules. Not break them." With my impairment, that's particularly sound advice, so I've consistently been Bending, in one way or another, ever since.

That's it then. My justification for being Bendy. I don't mean it to be exclusive to certain impairments, or even disability. More an attitude and a state of being.  Lets all identify for ourselves, the points where we each bend. Then Bendiness really will be Best!