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What do you mean by d/Deaf and/or disabled?

When we use disabled, we use the social model of disability. This means we are talking about people who face access barriers in their lives. We may have an underlying ‘impairment’, but we become disabled when society places barriers in our way. Disabled people use the word “impairment” to refer to the functional limitations we might have. When we say “disabled” we are referencing our oppression.

We use d/Deaf to talk about two populations, whilst acknowledging there is significant overlap: little-d deaf people, and big-D Deaf people. Little-d deaf people have hearing loss. We might use hearing aids, or BSL, but are not part of a Deaf community, and don’t use BSL as a primary language. Big-D Deaf people are culturally Deaf. They use BSL as a primary mode of communication, and build lives and relationships in a world of Deaf people. For big-D Deaf people, being Deaf is a different way of being, with a different language and culture. By using d/D we make it clear that CRIPtic is here for people with all degrees of Deafness and hearing loss. That said, we recognise that this is under discussion – more on that below.

What do you mean by the social model of disability?

We mean that we locate the source of the oppression d/Deaf and disabled people face in society. Our impairments can have difficult, exhausting, and painful effects. We will not be able to completely solve this by changing society. However, the oppression d/Deaf and disabled people face as a whole community is a social oppression. We believe that the way to equity and liberation is the removal of those barriers placed in our way by society.

While we typically don’t work in an impairment-focussed way, when we say ‘disabled’, we mean it broadly. This includes people with physical and sensory impairments, long-term and chronic illnesses or pain and energy impairments, people with mental health problems, mental illnesses and Mad people, neurodivergent people, people with specific learning difficulties and people with learning disabilities.

What types of access barriers are there in the arts?

  • Physical – people hosting events in spaces where they have not provided wheelchair access for performers, or for the audience. Galleries hanging pictures where viewers can’t get close enough to see from a wheelchair or if blind. Places having dim lighting which then makes lip-reading and navigation difficult.
  • Informational – people not having captioned their videos or provided BSL interpretation. People writing confusing and complex documents or formatting them badly for screen-readers.
  • Organisational – organisations not having considered that people might face access barriers. This means they might not have calculated them into event plans or project costs. Only having one method of applying for something, and that not being accessible for you
  • Technological – websites not being accessible via screen-reader, online events relying on people being able to see and hear everything currently going on and not providing audio-description and captions/BSL
  • Attitudinal – assumptions that because of your ‘impairment’ you can’t do a particular artform, like be a blind aerialist (Tito Bone), or that it will be impossible to accommodate someone with your impairment in a project

Can you explain the language you use?

There are lots of open discussions about how language is, and should be, used. These are about how to respect people’s preferences, needs, and desires. It can be hard to find terms that refer to a community having a shared experience without treading on the self-definition of individuals. This section explains the language we use, and the tensions we’re navigating as we do so:

Disabled people and people with disabilities

We say disabled people rather than people with disabilities because we are based on the social model of disability. When we say disabled people, we mean people in whose way society is putting barriers. A disability isn’t something we ‘have’ (we might have an ‘impairment’). Disablement is something that is done to us, when we face barriers.

Learning disabled people and people with learning disabilities:

While we usually say disabled people, we currently say people with learning disabilities. We use the phrase learning disability to refer to the impairment specifically (just as chronically ill people or people with cerebral palsy is). People are using it to describe the impairment, not the social oppression. We also recognise, more importantly, that it typically appears to be the community consensus to use this language, and if that consensus changed, so would our approach. This is under constant review and very open to discussion.

d/Deaf and deaf

It has been traditional within d/Deaf and disabled arts to say, as we have here, d/Deaf.

The perceived difference between deaf and Deaf people was discussed above. However, there are emerging inter-community discussions about whether d/Deaf creates a false binary between two very overlapping communities. Some suggest that using deaf as an umbrella term, which includes people with all experiences of hearing loss, or non-hearing people, and includes those who do and don’t use BSL to varying degrees would be more inclusive. Others say that being Deaf is a linguistic and cultural minority not captured within the word deaf. It seems that people on both sides of this discussion feel that the other language is divisive and exclusionary.

There doesn’t appear to be a community consensus, so we spoke to deaf-identifying and Deaf-identifying artists involved in the project. The general conclusion was that they preferred d/Deaf and that the Deaf artists involved would feel excluded by deaf being an umbrella term. We are respecting that and keeping it under review, but would be keen to hear from a wide range of people.

People who experience racism

In the #BAMEOver UK statement the artists involved identify a need for collective terminology but not meaningless acronyms. They identify that what the writers have in common is not the colour of their skin, but the fact that they experience racism. Where we are referring to a specific heritage, ethnicity, or experience, we will name that, but when what we mean is ‘people who experience racism’ then that’s the language we’ll use. This sits well with the social model of disability for us – that what we have in common isn’t necessarily our bodies, it’s their that society disables us.

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