by charli gayheart
As a proud disabled and queer writer and collagist, I think there are many misconceptions about creativity and disability pride.
Creativity is a crucial part of Disability Pride
A lot of people will say things like “I’m not creative”, but everyone is a creative being.
Every day, we are creative. We use our creativity when making breakfast, choosing what we will wear in the morning, making decisions and deciding what to eat for dinner. We are constantly creating things. Even when we’re dreaming at night our brains are being creative in our sleep!
‘Artsy’ might mean you enjoy making art and feel confident in your artistic abilities but when I talk about creativity, I’m not just talking about art. I’m talking about ideas, innovation and thinking outside the box.
To many people, disability pride is just being proud of having a disability. It’s a lot more than that. Disability Pride can involve embracing our differences, resisting ableism, ableist norms, inspiration porn and capitalism, It can be having pride not only in how we as individuals stand up for ourselves, but how our disabled ancestors have fought for our rights, it’s pride in our communities and our fight for Disability Justice. It’s our pride in how far we’ve come, while recognising we still have a long way to go.
For me, learning about disability pride changed my life. When I was young I had big dreams and so much confidence about what I could become, achieve and do in the world.
I loved making art. In Kinder and when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, my very ADHD answer was to be a dancer, a cook, a painter AND a teacher. Funnily enough, it’s never been unusual for artists to juggle three or four different roles.
As I grew older, my anxiety became increasingly hard to deal with, and not knowing I was autistic or an ADHDer meant I always felt there was something wrong with me.
I knew I had leadership skills though, and when I was in year 8, I desperately wanted to be a middle school captain. My special interest at the time was Fair Trade. I was keen to ensure that the people who made our school uniforms and sporting equipment were paid a proper wage.
I wasn’t picked to be captain, and I was really disappointed. I thought I met the criteria: good grades and a strong Christian faith, at my very Christian school. Maybe my anxiety was too evident. Maybe I lacked confidence. I never did make it into a leadership position in high school.
Now I see things differently. I had leadership potential, but ableism set me back. Not just the ableism of my teachers and school. My own internalised ableism slowed me down for a long time, Despite knowing I was an ADHDer, severely asthmatic and had multiple mental health conditions, I wasn’t sure I could identify as disabled. Then I participated in a leadership program for young disabled people run by the Youth Disability Advocacy Service (YDAS). I learnt that disability is no big deal. It’s really just any condition that impacts your everyday life. I began to feel pride as a disabled person. I began to believe in myself. I started calling myself an artist and a writer. I realised I was autistic about a month later, and everything started to make sense.
As an autistic artist, I’ve always found making art helps me identify and process my feelings, and writing gives me an emotional release. Art and writing have allowed me to communicate about ableism and the capitalist hellscape we’re living in. It helps me express myself, heal from trauma and connect with others.
Creativity is a part of disability pride because it encourages us to think about disability, ableism, oppression, capitalism, the body, the mind and ourselves in a new way. It disrupts the shame we are taught about ourselves and encourages us to be wholly ourselves, in a world that tells us to hide. It’s creativity that encourages us to think in different ways, create new ideas and new ways of being.
We use creativity to think of ways we can meet each other’s access needs, to create new mobility aids, improve access, find new ways of being in community and look after each other through pandemics, climate change and financial crises.
Creativity helps us to rewrite old narratives about disability. It helps us share stories beyond our pain and our trauma. Disability pride centres our joy, hope, resistance, resilience, history and fighting spirit.
It allows us to understand ourselves and other disabled people as multi-dimensional, all deserving of basic human rights and a better world.
Disability pride positions disabled people as the heroes of our own stories – not as the helpless side characters. Disability Pride recognises ableism, capitalism and systems of oppression as the enemies, not our disabilities.
Disability Pride enables us to write our own stories. It helps us reframe the way we all think about disability and disabled people.
Disability Pride sets us free – from shame and from ableist narratives and norms.
Disability pride gives me, and all of us, hope for an accessible, liberated and creative future.
charli gayheart (fae/them) is a queer disabled collagist and writer in Naarm. fae utilise art and writing to express and understand themselves. charli often explores themes of grief, disability, politics and nature through their collage and written pieces. you can find their art on Instagram @gayheartcreative.