Helena Ascough is a visually impaired poet, actor and teacher based in Lytham St Annes, Fylde,
Lancashire. Helena has the visual impairment, Nystagmus, a condition that is estimated to effect 1
in 1,000 people…
When I spoke to Nickie Miles-Wildin and Daryl Beeton for the Arts Lancashire podcast, I was struck by what they said – that life can be easier if you have someone to sit on the sidelines with you. Gosh, that’s amazing, isn’t it!?
I’ve always been watching from the sidelines. P.E wasn’t for me at school. The fact I couldn’t see the ball hurtling towards me didn’t help. It also didn’t help that the girls in my class knew this… Ouch! High school is a dangerous time for us all folks, and I’m not just talking about puberty, maths teachers and what might be rice pudding…
Sidelines: sometimes it’s the safest place to be.
Making friends when you’re disabled is hard. I remember many a time crying at lunchtime when I was a little kid because other kids would laugh at my eyes wobbling.
Scared of my individuality, wanting to have perfect vision, I used to feed my glasses to my dog when I was 3, To this day, I wouldn’t mind perfect vision, so, if anyone can offer me that then give me a call, ta very much.
Now, fully grown adults often remind me of my disability.
“Do you know your eyes do that?”
“Yes, I am fully aware, thank you!”
It took me ages to tell people that I am disabled. I felt embarrassed. But actually, the more you tell people the more comfortable you become with it. If they don’t like it, then they are not worth your time.
I wasn’t always confident. Drama class let me be the people I could never be. It was a place to express myself.
That is why I think that art is so, so important. Now, more than ever. Art is a tool to express how you see the world and part of what I see is that disabled people are still forced to sit on the sidelines. Why? Why can we not be the centre of the show? Tell me, what was the last thing you saw on TV which had a disabled lead? Heck, when was the last time you saw a disabled person in the media full stop?
As a disabled actor, poet and teacher, I am trying desperately to make a change. Telling organisations that I was disabled when I applied and auditioned for commissions was a huge step! For a long time I wasn’t brave enough to do so, as one employer didn’t extend my contract ‘because I couldn’t look people in the eye’.
Now, much of my performance work is focused on individuality and what it is like being disabled. As well as continuing my artistic practice, I’m currently taking my PGCE (teacher training) in Drama. I really want children to learn from a disabled teacher, to grow empathy and understanding. Hey, I’m a modern woman and I can have it all! I want to be seen, to be heard, to inspire others. Viva la resistance!
To those non-disabled folk reading this, be kind to everyone, try not to guess what disability someone may have, or why they have it. Ask them! Talk to disabled people like you would any able-bodied person because, believe it or not, we are just the same as anyone else. And please, PLEASE if you are an arts organisation reading this, give us a chance. Make your applications accessible. Allow us the opportunity to work on projects that are not just aimed at the disabled. Help us get off the sidelines and on to the main stage.
To my disabled friends, support other disabled people, make friends, build connections and never give up. We don’t always have to sit on the sidelines.
If you’re a disabled person who wants to be an artist, or to work in the arts, here’s a few
recommendations of people and places to follow on Twitter:
There is both an online newsletter and a Facebook group. Here, other disabled artists connect, share opportunities and current activity by disabled artists.
A Liverpool based disability-led group/festival. Follow their online newsletter.
A platform for funding for disabled artists.
Every Tuesday, Linda posts arts jobs on her Twitter account.