Since the coronavirus crisis began, we’ve seen some extraordinary acts of leadership. The Football Association cancelled all matches ahead of government advice, UK Theatre and Society of London Theatre closed down theatre and Arts Council England repurposed its funding streams to support our industry’s survival.
Between them, these acts have offered reassurance, financial lifelines and, very possibly, saved lives. All against a backdrop of fast-moving national and international events. The result is that the social model underpinning our society has been suspended.
Many of us have experienced our freedoms and ability to earn reduced, our environments have become less than ideal, with services no longer delivering for us, and we are living in the shadow of an invisible enemy.
Welcome to the world experienced by disabled people. You might have heard of the social and medical models of disability, and there is now no good reason not to understand what they mean – they apply to everyone.
All of us are living in a medical model of society, with huge limitations imposed on us that traditionally have only been experienced by elderly and disabled people. For fear of how the disease will impact my own underlying health conditions as a disabled individual, I am now into my third week of self-isolation and feel pretty medicalised.
I would urge everyone who has experienced disorientation, discomfort and fear in these past weeks, not to forget what it felt like
Yet, while the crisis has unfolded, I’ve been inspired by the leadership offered by disabled artists, sharing their experience online of self-isolation coping strategies, home-working, managing health and adapting to new and unwelcome circumstances.
Artists like Liz Carr, Jess Thom and Jamie Hale have reached out to those experiencing these conditions for the first time, responding to the rapid change in everyone’s circumstances. Society has so much to learn from disabled people. Once we get through this cataclysm, when we are preparing the recovery and reconstruction of civic life, disabled people’s experiences must be central to the plan.
Let’s ensure ableism and discrimination are consigned to the pre-coronavirus past. Before this crisis, our industry was making great strides towards better representation of disabled people, but there is more to do.
I would urge everyone who has experienced disorientation, discomfort and fear in these past weeks, not to forget what it felt like. Funnel those emotions into determination to do more to integrate disabled people fully into our society when life starts to return to normal. It will be of vital importance too that funders do not forfeit artistic risk, innovation and inclusion in the rush to support the sector’s survival.
Arts Council England’s 10-year strategy, Let’s Create, has been warmly welcomed by the sector and its inclusive approach, hard won. It offers the incredible opportunity of a fresh start. So when we reopen, which we surely will, let’s not make it business as usual.
Andrew Miller is an arts consultant, broadcaster and the government’s disability champion for the arts