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Disability Arts versus Pudsey Bear / 17 November 2014

photo of a packet of Pudsey Bear sweets, sold on a train as part of a BBC marketing campaign

Image by courtesy of the We all shot Pudsey Bear Facebook Group

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I often ask myself what is the point of Disability Arts? Every board meeting we have discussions about how we are swimming against a tide in our desire to raise the stakes for equality for disabled people. The attitudes that keep us in chains abound everywhere we look and our small attempts to challenge collectively are consistently ignored.

Just last week we suffered the BBC’s annual celebration of everything Tragic but Brave in which Pudsey Bear struts his stuff to let the world know how lucky it is to be ‘normal’. According to the Guardian an average of 8.3 million viewers watched Children In Need. 

Disability is a role imposed on us as bearers of abnormality. The BBC ups harp music to the max in order to play on peoples’ fears of impairment, using the wit and charm of Sir Terry Wogan to preach their disabling message. At its core that message is that we can only make sense of our impairments in negative terms; that our worth as human beings can only be measured through a discriminatory lens.

Children In Need exploits the poor, needy and desperate straits of children and young people in order to remind us of the value of normality and to ram home the message that unless ‘normal’ people want to experience stigma, they’d better keep on conforming to disabling value systems and keep their own little idiosyncrasies and abnormalities well hidden.

And so it goes on… I don’t think anyone could argue that many of charities the BBC’s fund-raising marathon supports are not doing good work. This year Children in Need raised a record £32.6m for disadvantaged children and young adults in the UK, £1.6m more than last year.

The reality is of course, that at the end of the day it is disabled people who pay for the appalling piece of marketing that the BBC is so proud of. Disabled People Against Cuts are now estimating that the average number of deaths directly or indirectly attributable to austerity measures has risen from 32 deaths per week to 73 deaths per weekAttitudes proselytised by campaigns like Children in Need only serve to justify the human cost of discriminatory attitudes. 

Meanwhile events such as DaDaFest are still attempting to raise awareness through showcasing artwork that presents conversations about the experience of disability and of impairment. 

Art of the Lived Experiment, this years’ curated show at the centre of DaDaFest International 2014 has had a piece of work blacked out in protest by one of the exhibiting artists who took offence at his work being labelled as Disability Arts. Quite why Mike Carr would agree to have his work exhibited in a Disability Arts festival if he objects to the term is not clear. DaDaFest says what it is on the tin. What this act does demonstrate, in my mind at least, is how high feelings run in the running away stakes.

Disability arts still has a role to play in allowing conversations, not marred by media spin, that demonstrate the realities of living with imperfect, impaired bodies and minds in a way that is balanced and real, rather than tainted by negative sensationalist attitudes.

By Colin Hambrook


Keywords: affirmative model,disability art,disability arts festival,disability equality,tragedy model,tragic but brave


Colin Hambrook

9 December 2014

I recently listened to the late Stella Young who sadly died very recently. She gave a brilliant TED Talk explaining exactly why the likes of Pudsey are, in her words "inspiration pornography".

Rich Downes

18 November 2014

loved this and put it on the we all shot Pudsey bear facebook page which you can join at

Deborah Caulfield

17 November 2014

Colin is spot on about marketting. Portrayed as tragically flawed on the one hand, and impossibly brave on the other, the common thread is the idea that disabled people are inevitably needy.

Having planted this notion deep into the heads of the viewers, it's only a question of time and celebrity silliness (motivated by vanity) before they cough up their mi££ions.

I suspect these donors are the same people who complain about the cost of welfare. This isn't ironic, it's sick. Social welfare promotes equalty and social justice, whereas charity encourages inequality and social injustice.

Austerity continues to be used to justify cuts in vital services and support, yet CiN's donations increase year on year. These two facts are opposite sides of the same devisive and society-busting coin.

Maureen Oliver

17 November 2014

I agree with you entirely. I hate the underlying message of campaigns such as Children in Need. Ultimately they serve to pigeonhole us as being excess to society's requirements by eliciting 'sympathy' from the 'normal' public. The whole concept of 'brave' yet flawed human beings that is applied to us by these charity programmes is nauseating.