The Simon Heng Column

I found out this week that I’d missed out on the Liberty Arts
Festival in London. A celebration of disability rights and the work
of disabled artists, it was organised by the Greater London Action
on Disability and supported by the Greater London Authority. It
seems that the organisers made huge efforts to make this event as
accessible as possible for audiences and performers, with special
parking and transport facilities and signers.

Although I am in favour of better accessibility to public events,
and to celebrations of diversity such as the Pride marches, I don’t
see why disabled artists and performers need, or deserve, a
showcase of their own.

Many artists have drawn on their own lives in their work,
portraying the oppressed experience to great effect. We have Toni
Morrison, Armistead Maupin and Jeanette Winterton in novels;
Caravaggio, Gilbert and George, and David Hockney in painting;
Derek Jarman in film; Benjamin Zephaniah and Linton Kwesi Johnson
in poetry, to name just a few. These people’s work is celebrated
because they have expressed themselves well in artistic terms.

The same is true of disabled artists and performers. Can-do Co
proved that disabled performers could produce beautiful and moving
dance. Evelyn Glennie has become a famous percussionist through her
performances rather than because she is deaf. Ray Charles and
Stevie Wonder probably wouldn’t have thanked you if you had
suggested that they needed a special showcase for their talent.
Lawrence Clark had a successful comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe
with The Jim Davidson Guide to Equality – although he did point out
the lack of accessibility, both backstage and front-of-house, of
many venues. A point worth making

The point of the disability movement is to eradicate inequality, to
provide a level playing-field. I don’t believe anyone should be
looking for “special” treatment beyond that, in any field. Art is
already an equal opportunities employer. All artists need talent,
hard work and luck to be recognised – and disabled artists are no

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