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On being a disabled person / 9 February 2011

When I was 17, I had a brain haemorrhage and a stroke. I had never worked with a disabled person. In no way did I think of myself as a disabled person. Even though I used a walking stick. Which is a lovely signifier of disability.

The first time I realised I was a disabled person was about four or five years later when I was at university. And we did a project with The Priory, which is the Community of St Mark and St Elias in Totnes, which does work integrating mentally and physically disabled adults back into the community again.

I realised from working with these people that if all hadn’t gone as well with the operation when I had the haemorrhage, that I could very easily be in their place. And that was not a mirror image but, you know, I was looking at what could easily have been my life.

So that was when I actually discovered that I was disabled. Even though, as I said, I used a walking stick, I was very slow, I can’t walk very well, I can’t handle steps very well. Although I have found that I’m getting better with time. Now that when I get used to it and know what I can do and my limitations.

But after the discovery of the guys and girls in the Priory, I decided to learn what it meant to be disabled. What it meant for me to have a stroke. Was there a place for me in the arts world? Which is when I discovered disability arts. And then everything fit into place.

And, you know, I know that being put or putting yourself in a box is not, you know – I’m talking stereotypes now; not literally putting yourself in a box. But, if you put yourself into these – into one of these categories, into one of these boxes, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Without me putting myself into the disability box, if you will, I wouldn’t know what – wouldn’t have known who I was. I wouldn’t have known what I was capable of. I would still be trying to keep up with the non-disabled people that I see. Which I still find myself doing sometimes - trying to keep up with everything, everyone else. Because I think that’s the right thing to do. Whereas I should let myself be me.

So, it was probably a good thing for me to put myself in that box. Because it’s a box where I feel comfortable. And where I don’t feel that I have to try to become someone that I’m not. I can be as kookie as I want to be.