Posts

Disability stories from skeletons

Image
By Stephanie Evelyn-Wright In June 2014, I attended a performance of ‘ Cabinet of Curiosities : how disability was kept in a box’. This show explored the ways in which disability and disabled people are portrayed in museums (School of Museum Studies 2022).  However, the skeletons of actual disabled people were omitted.  I asked the show’s performer – the disabled actor Mat Fraser – about this, and he told me that he was interested in disability as a social construct, but not as a ‘medical condition’. Fraser’s attitude is an example of the social model of disability, which holds that it is not a disabled person’s medical condition which causes problems, but the failure of the society in which that person lives to accommodate him or her. This is, however, an unhelpfully narrow view, for skeletons are continually shaped by the world - for instance a person’s diet and occupation can leave osteological traces which attests to their lived social world. Disabled people’s remains are frequentl

Disability and video game culture

Image
By Sebastian Barsch & Joana Hansen In May 2020, the announcement that a wheelchair-bound character would soon be included in the video game "Marvel's Avengers" went viral . In a way this is surprising because for various media there has been discussion for years about how to better represent social diversity. Even if these discussions have not led to people with disabilities being adequately represented in films, for example. What must be questioned, however, is which actors are chosen to portray people with disabilities. Sophia Stewart aptly writes : "The Oscars Love Movies About Disability, Not Disabled Actors". Video games have a similar impact on society as movies. They are now produced at similar expense, the computer game industry is extremely financially strong, and it can be assumed that computer game aesthetics have an enormous influence on the perception of many people. At a first glance, however, it seems that computer games depending on the genre

Hidden histories of disabled mill workers

Image
By Gill Crawshaw   George Thompson worked at Gotts Mill, now  Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills in Yorkshire, UK, in the 1840s. George’s job was as a handle-setter, putting teasels into metal frames which were fitted onto a teasel-raising gig. This machine was used in the finishing stages of cloth making, there’s an example of one in the Industrial Museum. The cloth would pass over the spines of the teasels in the gig to raise the nap of the fabric. It was then cropped to give it a smooth surface.  The Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leeds_Industrial_Museum_at_Armley_Mills George was a young man who lived near the mill in Armley. Jobs preparing teasels for cloth-finishing were usually done by young men and boys, and perhaps George had started work as a preemer, sorting and cleaning the teasels. His boss reported that George “acquired the business equally fast, and as well as others” and reckoned that “when he is of age he will be a

Siegfried Braun and the First Austrian Cripple Working Group

Image
  By Volker Schönwiese and Angela Wegscheider As an organiser of self-help groups and a political activist, Siegfried Braun (1893-1944) co-founded the Erste Österreichische Krüppelarbeitsgemeinschaft (First Austrian Cripple Working Group), a disabled people’s organisation oriented towards emancipation and social rights. In 1943, the Nazis deported Braun, identified as an Austrian-Czech Jew, to the Theresienstadt ghetto. He was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944.   Portrait of Siegfried Braun, Chairman of the Cripple Working Group Source: Illustrierte Kronen-Zeitung, 17/12/1926, 7 The contemporary disability rights campaigns are influenced by and embedded in historical processes and narratives. Siegfried Braun was a key agent of an early disability advocacy movement. Sharing his story can be considered as a “usable past” in understanding the present and building a different future (Longmore 2003). By using archive material, among other media-coverage of Braun and his group in the 1920s and

Craft and Curiosity: A Dedication to Laura Bridgman

Image
By Claire Penketh Histories of art education reflect and reproduce normative assumptions that making and appreciating art is dependent on sight. Such beliefs are founded on ocularnormativity, defined as an ableist predisposition towards the visual that renders us incapable of imagining or valuing a world without vision. In essence, ocularnormativity is an epistemological position that delimits the parameters of human value and worth (Bolt 2014: 14). This key concept has been employed to support my reading of histories of art, craft and design in the nineteenth century, alongside two texts: Pioneers and Perseverance, Michael Royden’s history of the Royal School for the Blind (1991) and Perkins School for the Blind by Kimberley French (2004). This short piece centres of the creation of a craft response to some of the themes emerging from this work.  Craft from the earlier form ‘cræft’ suggests a form of power and skill (McDonald 1970: 306) present perhaps in its resistance to ocularnorma

Not ‘Fit for Nothing’: William Henry Hunt

Image
By Emmeline Burdett   A couple of weeks ago, I saw a charity advertisement which discussed a young autistic man who painted, allegedly because he found it ‘therapeutic’. I felt that this was a rather patronising comment, because, whilst many people find painting therapeutic, the advert’s use of the word in connection with the (frankly unnecessary) information that the young man was autistic, seemed to imply that it did not matter whether he was any good at it or not, when, from the evidence of his paintings, he was extremely talented. The assumption that one is not really any good at anything is something that often dogs not just disabled artists, but disabled people who do anything – particularly if what is being done is unusual or unexpected. This experience of unreasonably low expectations is something which makes it possible to identify not just with disabled people (and, obviously, with other people) who are subjected to this in the present, but also with those who encountered sim