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Can see can’t see

July 6, 2018

Let’s talk about blind people in the arts. Why? because it’s important. And when I say “arts” I really mean theatre and film, the fine arts, and all the other ambiguous stuff doesn’t concern me. Because of what I do, I know a number of people involved in theatre. This includes a number of visually impaired people, which is fab, it means we’re heading in the right direction. There’s no doubt that visually impaired people are under-represented in the arts, and for a number of complex reasons, linked to discrimination and lack of opportunity, visually impaired people find it very tough to get a toe in the door.

I recently saw a Face Book post from somebody who is a visually impaired performer. They were talking about the fact that they were proudly doing there thing, whilst being visually impaired. This is of course, good, and I applaud it. But let’s dig a little deeper. I would suggest that most visually impaired people in the arts are not actually blind, just a bit visually impaired. I think there’s an important distinction to be drawn between visually impaired people and blind people. The person on Facebook, (no names no shit) has very, very good eyesight. In theory, I guess they are visually impaired, because they have less than perfect eyesight. But what this means is that the perception is that they are fighting the odds, fighting difficulties and negativity, and perform despite their disability. I would argue that the notion of visual impairment is so vague and ambiguous, that it is almost disingenuous to jump on the equality band wagon.

The issue is clear, yet cloudy. When a visually impaired person is cast, in some cases, it ticks a box. It is much safer and easier for a producer or director to cast a really high partial than a totally blind person. So when a very high partial is cast, the producer is getting a visually impaired person without the perceived array of complications. When totally blind people, or people with very little sight get more opportunities, I will applaud. But when people who are visually impaired on paper, and have excellent useful vision get chances, I really couldn’t care less, because on one hand they inhabit the sighted world, but when it suits, they play the visually impaired card.

I urge producers and directors to give opportunities to people with little or no eyesight, not those who have a tenuous and ambiguous condition which means that sometimes they have to wear glasses.

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