Experiences on InVisible Difference. by Kate Marsh

As part of the Invisible Difference project I recently co-delivered a paper at a high profile Higher Education and training organisation. The conference was themed around intersections and exploring the meeting places and tensions between diverse genres of practice and theory.

As this project has progressed, I have found that my confidence whilst attending these events has grown, as a practitioner I always felt that I had something valuable to contribute, but was often concerned that I would say the ‘wrong’ thing or that I would be ‘found out’ as a non-academic. The framework of support on offer from the Invisible difference team has meant that as a PhD candidate I have a range of invaluable sources from which to draw upon. I still feel like I may say the ‘wrong’ thing, but I now realise that so do most others sometimes. I also feel even more strongly that my position as a disabled artist-researcher means that I can offer an important perspective on our research.

This growing confidence is echoed in the progress of my own PhD research. At times it’s true I doubt my own ability and motivation to navigate this last year, but I am told (by reliable sources) that this is the norm. Again, I know I will say, do or write the ‘wrong’ thing, but I also know this is a valuable part of the process.

My point about this feeling of growing confidence and sense of validation relating to my ideas and practice was brought to the front of my mind following this recent conference. After our paper was delivered, we were asked several pertinent questions by delegates and there seemed to be a genuine interest in both our research and us as researchers.

On my walk home from the train station I felt positive, pleased with the events of the day and optimistic about continued research, even daring to imagine that all this could lead to a ‘real job.’ I decided to call into the supermarket. On arrival at the checkout as I unloaded my basket and prepared to pack the shopping into bags, I felt the very familiar sense of being intently stared at, this is not uncommon for me, plastic bags, fiddly purses and credit card machines are amongst the worlds most two handed of things.

The man on the checkout opened his mouth to speak “here we go” I thought, again this is pretty usual and as a rule I try to answer questions without rudeness but with a tone that strongly implies that I don’t want a full conversation on the subject, this is my way.

After the standard fact finding “Actually I didn’t lose it, I was born without it” (cue slight disappointment from starer). The man said this, “ Ah bless you, makes me realise how lucky we are.” Retrospectively I wish I had the courage to ask him what he meant by this. Did he feel lucky having both hands or was I lucky that a missing hand was all I had? Either way, the thought that has stayed with me since this encounter is that we remain in a society where people are still operating within a narrative of disability that makes it almost impossible to accept or understand that the experience of impairment might not be as ‘dreadful’ as one might think.

The question I have been left with is whether my disability and this particular man’s perception of impairment means that for him it’s unthinkable that I might feel proud of or even enjoy my disability. The fact is without it, there would have not been a conference that day, most likely no Invisible Difference project and quite probably no career in dance. (pretty successful thanks very much.)

I was reminded of Colin Cameron’s thinking around an affirmative model of disability. Cameron is clear that he is not suggesting this as a replacement for the widely used social model, rather a tool for acknowledging the voices and experiences of disabled people a framework within which those with impairment refuse to become what they’re expected to become by other people. (Cameron 2009.) For me the expectations held by this individual was that I would feel “unlucky” to have one hand, to draw upon Cameron’s theory here, this is actually a rather surreal concept for me. Having never experienced a two-handed corporeality, the idea that I would wish for another hand is somewhat abstract. I can only liken it to having two hands and wishing for three.

On a personal level, what I note from this exchange and the thing that I find most interesting is that, although I left the encounter with the same slightly red-faced feeling followed by the familiar aftermath of sadness followed by wishing I had responded more cleverly or at least more rudely. I also found myself genuinely questioning his position and mine and how our experience of being in the world so deeply impacts on how we perceive and relate to others. So in conclusion, thank you supermarket stranger, for provoking the questions and a timely reminder that there is still so much to uncover and explore here.
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