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  • Writer's pictureKate Morley

'Rights not Charity', in Nature

July is Disability Pride Month and since 1990 it has been a celebration of the varied cultures, identities and contributions that disabled people make to society. It is also a good time to reflect on where the Disability Rights movement has come from, and the many individuals over the years that have fought, and continue to fight tirelessly to campaign for equity in society for disabled people. Reading through some of the histories of the Disability Rights and Disability Justice movement (as well as listening to some cracking podcasts) there have been some striking quotes that have stood out. Some of these have been used to summarise the uprising of rage and the call for change, and some of these have been reflections of the lived experience of disabled people.

To encapsulate some of these I thought I would create some land art by using some contorted and twisted Ivy stems (sp.Hedera) that had come down on the land in a recent storm.

Ivy is a species that has a chequered relationship with humans in the UK. Many people mistakenly thought it was a burden to the host tree and 'choked' the life out of the tree, so people meticulously removed the ivy, to 'tidy' up the tree. Walking around many local woodlands the scars of the severed Ivy can often be seen, where people hacked away thinking they were saving the tree from harm, when in fact we now know that this has now been to the huge detriment of many insects that use Ivy as a late source of pollen, as well as bats that often roost in Ivy. Ivy is resilient, it can still survive even if the original associated tree dies and can adapt by co-habiting multiple trees at once.

After gathering the stems from the land at Hill Crest I pyrographed them and then took them back into nature to photograph them, and created some tags and photographed them on a garden variety of ivy.

"Rights Not Charity"

See Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)

Ivy branch pyrographed with Rights Not Charity  with green ivy leaves
Brown luggage tag with white string on Ivy leaves with the writing: "Rights Not Charity The slogan used by the Disability Rights Activists in 1977 that called for accessibility and rights in the US."

"Piss On Pity"

Check out the brilliant film, 'Then Barbara Met Alan' which outlines the origins of DAN (Disabled People's Direct Action Network)

Ivy branch pyrographed with Piss on Pity with green ivy leaves
Brown luggage tag with white string on Ivy leaves with the writing:  "Piss on Pity A slogan coined by Musician Johnny Crescendo in 1990 to protest stereotypes of disabled people. Challenged the charity model of disability."

"Our Space is Not Our Space"

From a conversation between Dr Theo Blackmore and Inclusion London's CEO, Tracey Lazard from the Discover Voices podcast

Ivy branch pyrographed with Our Space is Not Our Space with green ivy leaves
Brown luggage tag with white string on Ivy leaves with the writing:  "Our Space is Not Our Space From a conversation between Theo Blackmore and Tracey Lazard discussing the importance of disabled people organisations

"Every Story is a Disability Story."

As quoted in Riva Lehrer's memoir, Golem Girl.

Ivy branch pyrographed with Every Story is a Disability Story with green ivy leaves
Brown luggage tag with white string on Ivy leaves with the writing:  Every Story is a Disability Story. Brian Zimmerman as quoted in Riva Lehrer's Memoir Golem Girl

"We Do Not Live Single Issue Lives".

From Audre Lorde Intersectionality and racial oppression

Ivy branch pyrographed with We Do Not Live Single Issue Lives with green ivy leaves
Brown luggage tag with white string on Ivy leaves with the writing:  We do not live single issue lives. From Audre Lorde's 1982 speech exploring intersectionality and the multiple forms of oppression

"Disabled People Are the Canaries In The Coal Mines"

From a conversation between Dr Theo Blackmore and Dean Harvey from the Discover Voices podcast

Ivy branch pyrographed with Disabled People Are the Canaries in the Coal Mine  with green ivy leaves
Brown luggage tag with white string on Ivy leaves with the writing:  Disabled People are the Canaries in the Coal Mines From a conversation between Dean Harvey and Dr Theo Blackmore about Intersectionality, describing how disabled people are treated is an indicator of systemic failures.

"Nature Is Wayward and Perverse, There Is Wild Inside What We Call Abnormal."

From Riva Lehrer's memoir, Golem Girl.

Ivy branch pyrographed with Nature is Wayward and Perverse there is Wild inside what we call abnormal  with green ivy leaves
Brown luggage tag with white string on Ivy leaves with the writing:  Nature is Wayward and perverse there is wild inside what we call abnormal. Discussion around What is normal and extinction of disability due to modern medicine by Riva Lehrer

"You Have To Ramp The Human Mind Or The Rest Of The Ramps Won't Work".

George Covington as quoted in the 'Opening The Door to Nature For People With Disabilities' article.

Ivy branch pyrographed with You Have to ramp the Human Mind or the rest of the ramps won't work with green ivy leaves
Brown luggage tag with white string on Ivy leaves with the writing:  You have to ramp the human mind or the rest of the ramps won't work. George Covington Former White House adviser on disability

Hopefully, as I read and learn more about Disability and Urban Nature, this collection of quotes will grow and further pieces will be added.

Using the Ivy stems to frame the quotes has made me think and explore Disability Justice as well as reflect on my own identity as a disabled person.

About ten years ago I ordered a swanky new anatomical model of the human ear for one of my new audiological practices. This would be handy to explain the mechanisms of how the hearing and balance system worked and the medical framing of where the 'disease, pathology or abnormality' of the ear's physiology was manifesting itself as a 'problem for the patient'. It arrived with no tympanic membrane (ear drum) or attached malleus and incus (two of the small bones-ossicles-of the middle ear). I phoned the supplier and explained the issue and they said "Oh just chuck it away it's no good for anything- we'll send you a new one". Which they duly did and the new ear model was used... a lot...

For some reason I couldn't bring myself to throw the "malformed" ear away... maybe I thought I could fashion a new ear drum... maybe I thought I could use it for a dusty window display...

But here's the rub. I don't really have a hearing loss... as my cochleae never fully formed to their full extent. Around six weeks after fertilisation, when I was an embryo something happened to disrupt the process (as well as jumbling up a few other organs). So I never had 'normal' hearing to lose. My ears are as unique as the rest of me.... just that some frequencies are less heard... with a few other physiological differences thrown into the mix! But am I deaf? As someone who was trained to be an Audiologist when the proud Deaf Culture was emerging I felt like an interloper... not deaf enough... not a signer... partially deaf... was I hearing impaired? Was I 'hard of hearing'? Always on the edge.

This internalised ableism was probably fuelled by the countless times when my hearing was a source of debate for others which still linger... whether that be when an Ear Nose and Throat Consultant during my first week at work proclaimed that "she can't be an Audiologist as she has a hearing loss," or a group of laughing Hearing Aid Dispensers asking me at a professional conference whether I had sex wearing my hearing aids. The list is pretty endless.

The problem for many disabled people is that they have to inhabit parallel worlds. One where they may see the social model of disability in aspects of their lives (see my previous blog here) and wish to work towards Disability Justice, but are forced to inhabit the medical model of disability; constantly having to be explicit about their impairments and conditions, justifying or categorising themselves in order to obtain funding or ‘reasonable adjustments’ in order to function in a world that is determined to mark them out as 'other'. The investment of time and energy to self-advocate becomes exhausting to the point when they think “Why did I mention it in the first place”- better to struggle along and if necessary hide the impairment than enter this perpetual cycle.

One thing we have seen recently, with threats to environmental legal protections and threats to the financial support that some disabled people receive in order to live independently, hard-won rights and protections should never be taken for granted; progress made in the past can be undone by a stroke of a pen.

The more I learn about Disability Justice and its empowering framing of interdependence, sustainability, recognising wholeness, anti-capitalist politic and commitment to cross-movement organising, it helps me to frame my life generally and perhaps frame my disability too.

I'm glad I kept that old ear... here it is out on the land... Nature's Ear... with the help of a bit of Hawthorn, Stitchwort and Forget-Me-Not... Happy Disability Pride Month!

Plastic Large model of human ear with white stitchwort flowers, white hawthorn flowers and blue forget me knot flowers, in the ear canal with the green landscape behind and sky which is blurred out as the ear is in focus

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