What is 'Missability?'
Seen from where The Missability Radio Show stands, disability is experienced as a societal label and like all such labels, is loaded with hidden meanings, subtexts and implications. Disability has cultural dimensions relating to interdependence, mortality, suffering, needs management, empowerment, technology, medicine, independence and numerous other, complex issues. In my life I discovered that ticking the disability box and announcing that Yes, I am disabled, had significant social repercussions, particularly in respect of gender, sexuality and beauty. People no longer returned my smile on the bus, but glanced instead sadly at my walking stick and looked puzzled by the fact I was smiling at all. I also found it infuriating that every single nice outfit I would put on for a date would be ruined by clumpy, outsized men's shoes and an ugly, grey walking stick. Furthermore, I was shocked to discover that disabled toilets often don't contain mirrors, condom machines, or even tampon vending machines. The railings and space in disabled toilets were essential to me for a time, but availing of them came with the price of not being able to check on my makeup or stock up on sexual protection.
A background in feminism, environmental activism and a long-standing academic fascination with the symbolic language of cultural forms inevitably shaped my response to acquiring a disabled identity. I became fascinated in developing strategies for specifically addressing the pitying looks of strangers, the lack of positive, sexual, disabled imagery, and the absence of any obvious cultural distinctions being made between male or female disabled experience. I revised the Universal Access Symbol so that it included an overt reference to the cultural construct of womanhood. I decorated my walking stick with felt so that people would ask me where I got such a great stick instead of fixating on the nature of what may be ‘wrong’ with me. I made up stories about how supermodels were going to learn to copy my inimitable walk and how my slow, arthritis-impeded gait was going to define a whole new trend within fashion. I bought huge rings to adorn and draw attention to my fingers when active inflammation ‘deformed’ their ‘correct’ shape. These defiant and subversive artistic endeavours became symptomatic of a total creative approach to disability that I have termed Missability.
I understand Missability as an empowering creative reflex; a means of re-ordering the symbolic language of the world I inhabit, for confidence-building and affirmative purposes. Missability is an ambiguous term; it could mean the absence of an ability; to be missing some ability. It could also mean Miss Ability, as in someone renowned for their multifarious talents and skills and it could also be a feminized version of the genderless term, disability.
A Dutch media company has established a beauty pageant for disabled women entitled Miss Ability in the time since I registered Missability Limited with Companies house and purchased the domain names www.missability.com and www.missability.co.uk. The media company offered me 5,000 euros for this web address: I will not sell it. The term Missability encapsulates the complexities of my approach to disability. Distinctly and self-consciously female, articulated through a language of appropriation, and relentlessly ambitious and busy, it identifies my work as belonging to several categories and dialogues at once. Self-evidently gendered, it refuses to patronise the disabled community by ignoring the important distinctions between masculine and feminine experiences of disability. Simultaneously able to mean superbly able or missing an ability, it allows me to bear and conceptualise the contradictions of living with a changing medical condition. Finally, it gives me a way of making work that references disability without entirely confining me to the politics of that territory.