Dear Able-bodied Arts Worker,
I’m trying to build my life so I don’t have to answer this question. It blows my mind how often some kind of variation of this question comes from people, who are immersed in art and activism with communities, as though Deaf and Disabled people aren’t a part of those communities—as though you can advocate for one group without advocating for folks with intersecting identities.
I hope you know that answering this question is painful.
It's important because we are important, because we are producers and consumers of culture, because we are a part of culture, because we bring knowledge and insight that you don’t have.
We are more than a 5th of the population; we are necessary to understanding human existence. Our experiences are essential and valuable and worthwhile.
So yes that musical needs ASL. Yes, that film in Mi'kmaq needs captions and culturally competent description. Yes, it's important because we have been leaving people out in our effort to understand what it means to be human and if you don’t invite disability into the room, then what you make will be less; the world will be less; our understanding will be less, our joy will be less.
When you ask this question I see that you see me and other people in Deaf and Disability communities as less, as unimportant and I am hurt. Every time I justify our existence, it takes something from me. You should want us here, not just because it is right but because it is necessary to do the work you say you want to do.
How do we create access? How can you invite people to the room who have been historically excluded? How can you get access measures that honour culture and the context of your work? These are the places where a productive conversation can start.
These are certainly complex questions and I really want to explore them with you, because as a society we are still building the answers and we need each other. The world opens up when we work together. Our ideas become bigger and deeper and more impactful.
The time for “why” is over. Let's start asking “how?”
The Disability Files is a monthly newsletter with personal letters written by Disabled artists and creatives in response to honest questions about disability justice, art, and access.
We welcome you to ask us a question!