There’s a popular saying in the disability community: “Nothing about us without us”. It applies primarily to political policy making, but it works for art, too.
Since starting this blog, I’ve kept a closer eye on how disabled people and women are portrayed in various forms of media. Women are still relegated to supportive roles, eye candy, victims and assorted other archetypes, while those of us with any sort of disability are only there to add tragedy to someone’s back story, to act as inspiration porn or as a way to add grit to the story’s social setting.
Basically, we become things instead of actual people.
Oddly enough, in the Real World, we are people, and the messages we get from the world around us leave a powerful impact. Story makers and artists follow their passions, but they also have a responsibility when they decide to depict a group of people they’re not familiar with. If they want any sort of realism in their work, they must research what it’s like to be a part of that group.
Far and away the best way to do that is to listen to what those of us in those groups have to say. One of the best methods of doing that is to encourage us to create our own artwork. How else will we share our stories?
The advent of technology and the Internet has done a wonderful job of giving folks who otherwise wouldn’t have a way of communicating the ability to do so. Many people on the low functioning end of the autism scale, for instance, may be completely nonverbal, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing to say.
Candy Waters, for example is a brilliantly creative girl who cannot speak and has motor issues due to her autism. She also paints beautiful pictures which have sold for hundreds of dollars and been featured on magazine covers. She communicates the beauty she sees in the world through her paintings. The play of color and detail of shapes clearly demonstrate the way her sharpened senses bring out in every day objects everyone else misses.
There are nonverbal poets and writers, as well. There are dyslexic writers and artists. The arts are valuable for all groups, and everyone who wishes to pursue them should be encouraged to do so.
Disabled women in particular face unique challenges. While all women face a greater risk of gender based violence than men, women with disabilities face an even higher risk. Depending on the disability, they are often more dependant on a care-giver or accommodating devices. When that vulnerability is paired with ignorance and stigma, the results can be terrible.
If they can eventually escape the abuse, they then face the difficulty of getting the psychological care they need to recover. Art therapy is often very helpful, especially when talking about what happened is either too difficult or not possible. They need an outlet for their rage, hurt and fear, just like everyone else does. Art may be the perfect tool for that.
Art of all kinds offers a way to tell stories that otherwise may not be told. It can provide a creative income for some and therapy for others. It highlights the unique skills and points of view the world can’t exist without.
When we aren’t allowed our place in all facets of the artistic world, we’re left with the flat characterizations stigma and ignorance thrust upon us.
Women, disabled and not, need to take a firm place in the vast array of art communities out there. We each need to share our unique stories in the way which suits us.
Just like STEM, sports, and health, all kinds of girls should be encouraged to make a place in art.