Johannesburg — In light of the National Disability Rights Awareness Month (DRAM), which runs from 3 November to 3 December 2021, the National Arts Council of South Africa (NAC) has embarked on a campaign to honour artists and other industry professionals with disabilities. This campaign will raise public awareness about disability and the challenges faced by artists with disabilities in seeking equal rights and opportunities in the art sector.
This year’s theme is “The Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke – Create and Realise an Inclusive Society Upholding Rights of Persons with Disabilities”. This is a time to take stock of the number of artists with disabilities dealing with numerous challenges in their everyday lives. With the high number of unemployed artists with disabilities in the country, the NAC is committed to improving access for these incredibly strong-willed individuals by providing financial assistance and various opportunities within the art sector.
The disabled are not just audiences, they are also artists and creators. They are only disabled, not disposable, and the NAC believes the growing national and international networks related to arts and disabilities can be beneficial for all of us.
According to the South African Statistics (Stats SA), the number of people living with disabilities in the country is approximately 3 million, equating to about 7.5% of the entire population. Particularly amongst persons with disabilities, 12.5% are for those within the art community.
Despite this, there are many talented artists in the art sector who deal with various disabilities in their everyday lives that everyone else cannot imagine, yet they rise above their limitations and use their artistic endeavours to communicate with the world.
That being said, however, there are many organisations across the country that cater to their needs, such as the Johannesburg Society for the Blind (JSB). This NPO caters to the needs of blind and partially sighted persons. Amongst its programs, JSB has Sports, Arts and Culture Programs for visually impaired youth.
Another organisation that caters for persons with disabilities in the country is the African Sinakho Arts organisation that seeks to empower persons with disabilities by employing theatre as a means of rehabilitation, income generation and motivation.
“Growing up with a disability was challenging, especially because of the mockery I had to go through. However, I was fortunate to have a supportive parent who encouraged me to pursue my studies and career. As an artist with a disability, I want to encourage other artists with disabilities to also go above their limitations and take pride in their craft,” says Dr Marlene le Roux, NAC alumni, CEO of Artscape and co-founder of the Women’s Achievement Network for Disability.
Some talented artists find that art is the only way of expressing themselves. Thus, it is crucial that organisations support them in the quest for equal rights and opportunities in the art sector. Artists with disabilities need and deserve professional development opportunities just as much as any other artist. A systematic change is needed to make a genuinely accessible art world.