Some artists can cause us reframe our view of the world. Both through the art itself, the processes used to create work and the ways in which these ripple out into the world, in some contexts the experience of disability can serve to help people see what is really there. Jo Verrent explores….
5 September 2011
Susan Austin’s work challenges the historical usage of disability as a metaphor for evil or worthless, and counterpoints the many images of disability in British Media and popular culture that often pander to our voyeuristic tendencies.
Jenny Morris (1991) argues that cultural portrayals of disability are usually about the reactions to disability, rather than about disability itself. Disability thus becomes:
...a metaphor...for the message that the non-disabled writer wishes to get across, in the same way that ‘beauty’ is used. In doing this, the writer draws on the prejudice, ignorance and fear that generally exist towards disabled people, knowing that to portray a character with a humped back, with a missing leg, with facial scars, will evoke certain feelings in the reader or audience. The more disability is used as a metaphor for evil, or just to induce a sense of unease, the more the cultural stereotype is confirmed (Morris, 1991:93) .
Susan’s work has an alternative perspective, showcasing the experience of disability as a positive, allowing for a transformation of perspective and attitude. For some, it’s the very experience of disability that is the catalyst that has enabled them to see what is really there, rather than just what we assume there to be.
Portal creates impact. Viewers have many different interpretations – some finding it witty, amusing, thoughtful, and some gaining a deeper social resonance from the work. For Susan, this reframing is entirely political:
“There is a dichotomy in understanding: Many people understand this word [disability] to mean broken, deficient or limited in some way. But for those ‘in the know’ ‘disability’ celebrates the strengths and power that is built up in and through ‘difference’ – ‘The Hidden Secret’. For them, if there is any sense of limitation attached to this use of the term, it is seen as residing in limitations in thinking. Thinking that results in the attitudinal or physical barriers which act to ‘disable’ their lives. For them the word ‘disability’ becomes a term of empowerment that frees them by bringing into consciousness those restrictions that have been shaping their experiences and identity.” 
 From Morris, Jenny (1991) Pride Against Prejudice: Transforming Attitudes to Disability London: the Women's Press Ltd quoted in an article at http://www.mediaed.org.uk/posted_documents/DisabilityinMedia.htm  http://www.trishwheatley.co.uk/suefreewheeling.html