Laurence Clarks' new show iseponymously titled Independence. On one level it is a personal exploration of what it means to Laurence to be independent, on another it is a treatise on the institutionalisation of something which should be, and is, very personal.
Of course in the political climate of Brexit and the vote last September his show has taken on a new meaning, perhaps doubly so since we are in Scotland.
Laurence has cerebral palsy and like many people with disabilities he requires help to do some jobs or tasks. Again, like many disabled people he is subject to increasingly rigid checks and tests to see if he still has needs around ‘care’ and ‘mobility’. With this in mind and the Rio Olympics starting, the binary representation of disabled people as ‘inspirational heroes’ versus the undeserving ‘scrounger’ is once again in the spotlight. The trope of the ‘Super-Crip’ really is a pernicious one - disabled people can do anything, and if they can’t then they just aren’t trying hard enough.
What is central here is autonomy. Whose vision of independence are we looking at? Surely it is about the individual being able to exert their own agency without complying to an institutional, one-size-fits-all version of independence. It is about valuing and respecting the person and their needs.
The ‘normative’ population can't, and aren't, expected to be able to do everything for themselves. Why then do we view it perjoratively when a disabled person can't? It might just not be relevant to their life or lifestyle. Who needs to be able to tie laces when shoes come with Velcro, or slip-ons, to paraphrase Laurence.
Just because a person is disabled does not necessarily render them unable to make appropriate life choices and decisions. Being an adult, exerting your agency and yes, being independent, is about having the freedom not only to choose but also to make mistakes and, perhaps, learn from them. That’s all part of growing up and becoming an adult.
The social model of disability takes the approach that it is society who disables the individual, for example if there was a ramp instead of steps I would be able to get into the building. Independence would be an awful lot easier if we could dispense with the Social Model of Disability because it had become obsolete. Unfortunately disabled people are still in the position where they have to fight for basic rights. All too often the disabled person is told what’s best for them, what they need, what’s going to happen to them. They are rendered impotent by the system that is supposed to be there to help them. Help them, but not necessarily empower them. It appears that some independence is good, just not too much, and as long as it’s on the terms of the benevolent helper rather than the disabled person themselves. (AM)
Laurence Clark: Independence is on at 19.00 at Assembly George Square Theatre until 28th August (not 16th). Wheelchair Access, Wheelchair Accessible Toilets, BSL - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/laurence-clark-independence
The social model of disability: http://www.disabilitywales.org/social-model/
Stereotypes of Disability: http://thecommunicatedstereotype.com/super-crip/
The Language of Victimisation: http://mediaschool.indiana.edu/research-2/ethics-case-studies/the-super-crip-stereotype/