From 28 February to 2 March 2017 the team of the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA), a project delivered by Shape, were in residence at ‘The Gallery’ at Buckinghamshire New University, the host of the NDACA Research Space and Repository which will open in April 2018.
Nina Thomas, who assisted with the digitisation of the work whilst learning more about NDACA and the Disability Arts Movement, describes her experience…
I recently had the pleasure of supporting the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA) during a week at Buckinghamshire New University (Bucks). NDACA is a £1 million Heritage Lottery Fund project, delivered by Shape Arts, that aims to celebrate 30 years of the Disability Arts Movement. During the week at Bucks, we documented a number of items for the archive, which have been donated by many different people associated with the Disability Arts Movement. All the items had a particularly political focus, donated entirely by Baroness Jane Campbell DBE.
Campbell is a key political figure within the movement. Now a crossbench peer in the House of Lords, she has spoken of her past achievements as a grassroots activist as having “helped people to think again”. Indeed, what NDACA has shown me of the Disability Arts Movement has made me think again, challenging every stereotype there is about what it is to be a disabled person and often through a mixture of anger, laughter, and sheer stubbornness. I admire the disabled activists who show us all how political change can be achieved. Baroness Campbell was defiant when she declared ‘I’m not dead yet’ in response to the Assisted Dying Bill, asking for assistance to live rather than die.
There are many voices in the archive and it was a pleasure to hear more about the people they belonged to during the week I spent at Bucks. NDACA demonstrates how creative, challenging, and collaborative the Disability Arts Movement has been and continues to be today. It is the sense of inclusiveness and community that I value – each disabled person supporting and inspiring one another.
The history of direct action within the movement itself demonstrates how much stronger we are together. Baroness Campbell has spoken of how on her “first big demo … [she] took hundreds of wheelchair users on to Westminster Bridge, stopping the traffic. Here were the poor disabled breaking the law – the police couldn’t get their heads around it!” This sense of surprise is often present within the archive.
My identification with the term ‘disabled person’ is a recent one and so I have experienced a kind of joyful and personal discovery when viewing NDACA. I align myself with the Social Model of Disability (as do most of the people featured within the archive) because it suggests that rather than my body being the problem, it is society that creates barriers or fails to remove them, and this is the issue that must be overcome – click here to read more about the Social Model. It was a revelation to me, and discovering other disabled people who openly declared ‘Piss on Pity’ when asking for equal rights has inspired me immensely. The discussions I had with NDACA Project Team and others during the week at Bucks were engaging and uplifting. There was plenty to talk about!
In the current climate it’s easy to feel disengaged but I really found NDACA to have an reinvigorating approach to disability arts and politics, and the stories documented are very relevant to now. The archive reminds me that it often takes a sense of humour and creativity to handle the types of injustices many of us see or experience today. The lesson from the Disability Arts Movement is to not to give up.
One of NDACA’s project delivery aims is to create the NDACA Wing for learning at Buckinghamshire New University. The NDACA Wing will be an exciting development for disability education and access because it aims to utilise advancements in technology as much as possible. From my own experience, technology is increasingly allowing me (and others) to find creative, collaborative and innovative ways to improve access to education. From the discussions I had during the week it was clear that the NDACA team are as passionate about access as I am and share my excitement about the potential for new technology to improve access in the future. The library will set a great example to others as to how access can – and should – be done, so that all feel welcome and included. This is what makes this a really exciting project in so many ways; the archive is a rich resource of information, and provides inspirational evidence of creative collaboration across the years. I hope NDACA is received by the public as a model of how we can learn from each other, so that society is able to progress and knock down many more barriers. I really believe that a properly inclusive society benefits everyone and I can’t wait to see what NDACA has planned next.