Open Arts Blog

Welcome to our new blog where on the second Tuesday of each month we will discuss a new topic in connection with arts and disability, ableism, accessibility, disability equality, media representation, and much more. 

April 2023 - Coming soon...

March 2023 - The art of not making a fuss: Should disabled people hide to make society more comfortable?

With incidents of disability hate crime in Northern Ireland at their highest level since recording began in 2005, Cinzia Savonitti asks – “should disabled people hide some or all of their disabilities, to make society more comfortable?”

In rural Italy, where I was born and raised, disability was not something that was openly discussed. Growing up, I was encouraged “not to make a fuss” or be an inconvenience. The doctors that I encountered were following my country’s medical model of disability – where my body was something to be ‘fixed,’ with or without my active participation or consent. 

Thankfully, since I moved to Northern Ireland and became involved with Open Arts, I have learned about and embraced the social model of disability, where the ‘problem’ is not the disabled person, but society around them.

While consulting with my fellow Open Arts participants as part of research for our new Disability Equality Training programme, we shared some hair-raising stories of everyday ableism in Northern Ireland. These stories include:

  • Being asked by a train worker “Do you need to use the train every day?” (No expectation that we might have a full-time job!)
  • Being talked to IN VERY LOUD VOICES, as if we don’t understand
  • Being asked if we ‘know’ a certain other person, simply because they are also a wheelchair user  
  • Being talked to as if everything we do is a big accomplishment or an inspiration

Since “…21.7% of respondents aged 16-64 in Northern Ireland (Apr-Jun 2017) reported a long-term illness and a disability” (The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency), we’d like to offer some suggestions about how to make life easier for both disabled and non-disabled people here:

  • Talk to me – the disabled person – not the person accompanying me
  • Don’t patronise me or talk to me like I’m a child. Just because I have a disability, doesn’t mean I’m not well-educated.
  • Come over and say hello to me – especially if I’m visually impaired.
  • Don’t assume I need help. Ask first, and if I agree, ask permission before touching or entering my personal space.  
  • If I tell you what I need, don’t feel you’re being criticised – just listen.
  • Don’t ask me about my disability or what is “wrong.” It’s a personal matter and sometimes, I just don’t want to talk about it.
A picture of Cinzia with short dark hair, wearing dark rimmed glasses and is in her wheelchair.

February 2023 - Strictly speaking, every body can dance!

Following the ableist backlash to the news that Strictly Come Dancing will cast a wheelchair-user celebrity for this year’s series, Luminous Soul member Cinzia Savonitti shares her thoughts and experience as a wheelchair dancer and her hopes for the show.

As a wheelchair dancer and as a disabled person working in the arts, I’m really pleased about the news that Strictly Come Dancing is set to cast a wheelchair user for the upcoming series due to air later this year.

The decision comes after the successful casting of the first ever deaf participant in former Eastenders actress Rose Ayling-Ellis. She won the contest in 2021 alongside Giovanni Pernice, whilst Paralympian Ellie Simmonds made it to week six last year.

While the proposed casting is obviously good news, it is deeply concerning that it sparked mixed reactions on social media and in the press. Several disability rights campaigners have spoken out to highlight the shocking ableist comments made by some not wanting to watch a wheelchair dancer and comparing the prospect to” having dancing dogs or cats as partners”.

In addition, some media outlets referred to the possible contestant as being “wheelchair-bound” and “a difficult situation to manage,” perpetuating the stereotype that our wheelchairs are chains that limit us and that working with disabled people is ‘difficult’.

I am not limited by my wheelchair – my wheels allow me to move freely and dance in different and amazing ways, thanks to Luminous Soul, the dance group run by Open Arts. What is ‘difficult’ is a lack of accessibility in media production, and disability awareness, both in the media and in society as a whole. 

Research from a 2021 report from Creative Diversity Network shows that it will take almost two decades for disabled people to be properly represented in the media. While 17% of the U.K. workforce is disabled, and 18% of the U.K.’s population, in the TV industry there are only 4.5% of disabled people working behind the camera and 6.8% in front of it.  Decisions like the one that the Strictly team has taken which showcase disabled artists on “prime time” television are a step in the right direction.

As my fellow Luminous Soul member and mentor Linda Fearon says:

“The world is full of disabled and non-disabled people. We walk, run and wheel past each other every day, so it makes sense to me that we dance together.”

Picture of two female dancers, one of which is a wheelchair user with her arms stretched wide. The other dancer is sitting on the floor with her arms stretched in front of her.