(alternative text for those who cannot see the images above, 3 stylised versions of the same portrait of face sit in a line. Only one in colour. The expression on the face is ambiguous, seemingly changing in relation to light and shade and to representation.)
This is what ‘disability’ looks like is a simple idea about challenging and reframing the way the world sees us. Selfies and self-descriptions in various media are made into slideshows and collages that tell individual and collective tales. The images above are a visual representation of my answer to all the people who think disability, chronic illness or difference is always easy to detect. Other ways I may respond to the theme of what disability looks like may include images that illustrate my accomplishments or my navigation of physical or psychological barriers.
There are no such things as ‘disabled people’ but there are plenty of people with disabilities. These disabilities can be severe, whether seen or unseen. Other labels include ‘differently-abled’ which works for many situations and conditions. What never works is more abled individuals or groups defining what we are, what we can do, or where we go with us locked out of the conversation. At Nott Normal we define and narrate our own stories and futures according to our capacities. We help one another build and support our abilities to do so in whatever ways we can.
Sometimes, that begins with an image or description of ourselves; how we perceive ourselves to be.
So, who is the person in the photos above? 40 years old now, I am a writer and artist with a background in both performance and politics. I have danced, rock-climbed, been part of peace projects in conflict zones, stood for parliament and been 100% bedbound for months at a time. I am a person who has accomplished in spite of the boundaries; warrior creative making bright mosaics out yesterday’s broken dreams.
I was born with multiple disabilities and divergences that were for the most part invisible for decades, meaning years of ‘you don’t look ill’, until progressive aspects and chronic illnesses layered to plonk me in the zone where my ‘disability’ is the first and sometimes only thing the majority of people seem to see. I experience a lot of prejudice, misunderstandings and misconceptions that warp perceptions of me and create damaging barriers to inclusion. I know I’m far from alone in this. I also know one of the biggest, continuous challenges can be to prevent the internalization of such twisted ideas of ourselves. We may live able lives with disabilities but our lives are most often disabled by intolerant attitudes and inaccessible architecture around us.
Nott Normal allows me to begin to reclaim and reframe my image and story in the world. I hope the same will be true for others.
Do you have a difference, disability, physical, mental or emotional lasting injury or challenge that means you are often misread or misjudged? Do you feel like no one sees your disability or difference, or do you feel like disability is all people see when they look at you? If you would like to join in please post your images and/or self-descriptions directly to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, in the comment section of this blog post or on our new facebook page. It will be assumed that any image sent to us in any of these ways comes with permissions for us to share it. If you’d like us to use a pseudonym of your choice, either to protect your privacy or to better describe your identity, we are very happy to do this. Just ask.
Selfies (fully clothed) of any style or photos taken by others (crediting them as photographers) are welcome, as are other forms of 2D self-representations and descriptions. No offensive gestures or words please, we need to keep this P.G, so nothing you wouldn’t want a child to see. Where appropriate we will be providing alternative text descriptions to include people who are registered blind or partially sighted. If you’d like to write your own we’d love that. You can also choose one or more of the hashtags suggested below and post it on social media. Look out for each other’s posts to give mutual support, retweets, and shares where a person’s privacy settings allow.
I’m going to be doing a big push on April 1st. Why not join in then?
These hashtag options help us find one another’s posts and connect:
Alternative text: a woman in the woods on a bright, cold day smiles confidently and happily at the camera. No one can see from the photograph that she is in a wheelchair.