Shape’s Georgia Macqueen Black - Engagement Officer for NDACA (the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive), a project delivered by Shape to bring to life the heritage and rich history of the Disability Arts Movement - speaks about NDACA's forthcoming online archive, and reflects on key moments in disability history and the cultural changes they engendered…

A vibrant history of disabled lives in the UK will soon become accessible to members of the public. To those who come across NDACA, the Disability Arts Movement will likely be an unheard of event. A forty-year history of Disability Arts that encompasses organisations and people, festivals and protests, all aligned to exploring the experience of disability. The 2500 deposits of NDACA (available this summer through an online catalogue) individually consider disability as a concept with political and cultural meanings. The catalogue is a means to imagine disability as more than an individual’s impairment: a lens for thinking about how society is structured, to question who is most likely to hold positions of power and who wins the assumptive game of ‘types’ and ‘categories’ of the most homogenous life.

According to Scope, there are 13.3 million disabled people in the UK, almost one in five of the population. The Guardian has reported 20% of the working population identify as disabled but they make up 4% of staff at publicly funded arts organisations and major museums. In 2018, it seems clear that society is failing disabled people. 13 million individuals left out of the cultural conversation creates a narrow vision of the inclusive society I often hear modern Britain hailed to be.

NDACA, a catalogue of the disability art created alongside political campaigns for accessible transport and anti-discrimination legislation, cannot by itself transform the inequality faced by disabled people. But as a heritage preserved for disabled people living today — and for generations to come — NDACA is an achievement. If you take a closer look at history, you can see how the achievements of disabled people have stood for years already. The passing of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act was the culmination of a decade-long demand by disabled people for civil rights. The Rights Now group, established in 1992, was a coalition of about 50 disability organisations and charities who worked together to help bring about change; this coordinated work of political lobbying happened alongside a growing network of disability arts organisations and exhibitions, touring cabaret shows and music festivals. Taken altogether, NDACA is the form that will reinterpret a portion of disability history, re-imagining disability art as part of an ongoing conversation about rights and equality.Image shows an old newspaper spread bearing the headline Image shows an old newspaper spread bearing the headline theatre of the disabledImage shows an old newspaper spread bearing the headline theatre of the disabledImage shows an old newspaper spread bearing the headline theatre of the disabledImage shows an old newspaper spread bearing the headline theatre of the disabledImage shows an old newspaper spread bearing the headline theatre of the disabled

There are still several months to go until NDACA’s launch in April. There is an archive to build and decipher, to draw out the richness of a heritage that disabled people have lived through and flourished. I hope NDACA encourages a wider trend that stops disabled people being left out of current cultural change. I would like to see disabled people in the media, on TV, in politics and the arts participating fully in discussions. I suppose many people, if asked how they would measure progress for an alienated group, would say that what happened then is not happening now. Society has moved forward for disabled people in some respects — accessible transport is seen as the norm (although is not always available), public spaces are increasingly accessible and disability is a protected characteristic in law. Ironically, I feel that to further the cause for disabled people’s progression, it makes sense to look back, to revisit ‘what happened then’ — not the oppression itself, but how disabled people overcame it — and to apply those conversations to now.

I’ll leave you with one conversation that has struck me within the NDACA catalogue — a writer’s conversation with himself, reflecting on his position as a disabled artist in an emerging disability culture. As the Engagement Officer of a disability arts archive, I am often able to loot a segment of someone else’s writing, in the hope that my selection allows an audience to probe into disability arts with a little more integrity. Maybe this particular segment, written by the late disabled artist and writer Steve Cribb, will allow you to make off with a different point of view.

“Because of discrimination and the like, disabled people-underachieve. There is such a low expectation of what we can do, that doing anything stuns Society into shocked amazement. We get over-praised for our most moderate achievements and, inevitably, we bathe in our moments of glory.

Supportive families and segregated education, make objectivity difficult for us to grasp. But we must learn the truth about our strengths and weaknesses if we wish to truly fulfill our lives. Our various impairments should not allow us to rob ourselves of some home truths: most people are ordinary, so are we; most people are passive consumers of life, so are we; some people are talented achievers, so are some of us.

However, if we show some real “gift”, the ubiquitous praising and our own lack of objectivity can have stultifying results. They stop us from striving for improvement and so from reaching the heights of self-expression and acclaim for which all Artists strive.”

- Taken from ‘The Price of Nice — are Disabled Artists Cotton-wooled?’ by Steve Cribb.

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Banner Image: Photo by David Hevey from the 'Liberty, Equality, Disability poster series'
Body Image: 'Sideshow' a Graeae theatre production