Deep sea diving … in a wheelchair? Artist Sue Austin takes her wheels underwater to combat limiting views of disability
After a battle with illness damaged her ability to walk, artist Sue Austin started using a wheelchair. In a talk at TEDxWomen, she describes how beginning to use a wheelchair — something she found exciting and freeing — inspired people she knew to treat her differently:
"Even though I had this new-found joy and freedom," she says in her talk, “people’s reaction completely changed towards me. It was as if they couldn’t see me anymore, as if an invisibility cloak had descended.
"They seemed to see me in terms of their assumptions of what it must be like to be in a wheelchair.
"When I asked people their associations with the wheelchair, they used words like ‘limitation,’ ‘fear,’ ‘pity’ and ‘restriction.’ I realized I’d internalized these responses and it had changed who I was on a core level. A part of me had become alienated from myself. I was seeing myself not from my perspective, but vividly and continuously from the perspective of other people’s responses to me.
"As a result, I knew I needed to make my own stories about this experience, new narratives to reclaim my identity."
Sue began to factor her wheelchair into her art, hoping to encourage viewers to reconsider the way they look at disability — to show that a wheelchair isn’t a punishment, but an opportunity to experience the world in a different way.
One way she did this was by working with a team to create a self-propelled wheelchair that works underwater, allowing Sue to scuba without leaving her chair.
I realized that scuba gear extends your range of activity in just the same way that a wheelchair does,” she says in her talk, “but the associations attached to scuba gear are ones of excitement and adventure — completely different to people’s responses to the wheelchair. So I thought, ‘I wonder what will happen if I put the two together?’
At first, the goal seemed impossible: “When we started talking to people about it, engineers were saying it wouldn’t work, the wheelchair would go into a spin, it was not designed to go through water — but I was sure it would,” Austin told the BBC. But things worked out, and the results are quite spectacular. “If you just put a thruster under the chair all the thrust is below the center of gravity so you rotate,” she said. “It was certainly much more acrobatic than I anticipated.”
Watch Sue’s entire talk below, and see more of her art at her website.
Kevin Breel is Inspiracity: Speaker, Comic, Teenager, Activist, Popular Kid …
My story is this. Four simple words: I suffer from depression. For a long time I think I was living two totally different lives, where one person was always afraid of the other. I was afraid that people would see me for who I really was. That I wasn’t the perfect, popular kid in high school everyone thought I was. That beneath my smile there was struggle. And beneath my light there was dark. And beneath my big personality just hid even bigger pain.
The world I believe in is where where embracing your light doesn’t mean ignoring your dark. The world I believe in is one where we are measured by our ability to overcome adversities not avoid them.
"Pee Wee kind of sensed the sort of helpless, dead feeling in me and came over and stood beside me for a while. He didn’t say a word, but he looked over at the chaps who were yelling at me and just stared. He was standing by me, I could tell you that."The hecklers ceased their attack. "I will never forget it," Robinson quoted in the biography by Arnold Rampersad,
It was simple on its face, but as deeply layered as the gesture it memorialized. With Robinson receiving death threats and heckling and taunts from the crowd in a ballpark on the road, Pee Wee Reese walked over to him on the infield at a point either before or during a game and offered a quiet but significant gesture of friendship and comradeship.”My father had done his own soul searching,” said Mark Reese, Pee Wee’s son, “and he knew that some fans, teammates, and yes, some family members didn’t want him to play with a black man.”“I remember Jackie talking about Pee Wee’s gesture the day it happened,” Rachel Robinson said yesterday. “It came as such a relief to him, that a teammate and the captain of the team would go out of his way in such a public fashion to express friendship.”
November 2, 2005, Two Men Who Did the Right Thing, New York Times By IRA BERKOW
Beginning in 1996, Radio Diaries gave tape recorders to teenagers around the country to create audio diaries about their lives. NPR’s All Things Considered aired intimate portraits of five of these teens: Amanda, Juan, Frankie, Josh and Melissa. They’re now in their 30s. Over this past year, the same group has been recording new stories about where life has led them for our series, Teenage Diaries Revisited.
Here’s our first installment: Amanda Brand is gay. Her family is conservative Catholic, and when she was a teenager, her parents were convinced she was only going through a phase. Recently, Amanda sat down with her mother and father in Queens, N.Y., in the same house she grew up in, to revisit her tumultuous teen years.
Photo: Radio Diaries (left), David Gilkey/NPR
This biopic of Temple Grandin, illustrates the possibilities of overcoming limitations even autism. Temple did not speak until she was four. She had difficulty with social relationships and emotional regulation through out her childhood. She processed information differently, experiencing things visually, as pictures.Temple’s mother and several teachers supported and nurtured her potential. She developed an interest in cattle while spending time at her Aunt and Uncle’s ranch. This passion ultimately led Temple became an expert in animal husbandry and Professor at Colorado State University. Her humane designs for cattle processing plants has done her awards from PETA. She is an author and tireless advocate for those with autism. She is noted for creating the ‘hug box’, a way of relieving stress.
Learning From Kurt Cobain’s Mistakes
By this time in my life, I was a professional Portlander, desensitized to celebrity. I looked upon my teenage idol-worship with embarrassment. But when Courtney looked up at me from the couch and appraised my outfit for her boyfriend (“nerdy” and “very Olympia”), my heart skipped a beat. I owed it to that awkward, angsty 13-year-old inside of me to be over the moon with excitement. I had arrived to the party 10 years late, but I had arrived.
Man’s Search for Meaning
Viktor E. Frankl
“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”
Timeless wisdom from Viktor Frankl
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