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Liz Porter: Learning to See - disability arts online
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How do assumptions and perceptions on how visually impaired people communicate inform our lives? / 26 March 2014

A lot has happened in the last couple of months, heading in the right direction, but a long way to go…

Part of the research and development strand for ‘Learning to See’ is to work with an established writer through New Writing South’s Writer’s Mentoring scheme. I’ve got four sessions with Mark Hewitt. A key aim being to end up with a good ‘draft’ rehearsal script and sketched ideas on how the other arts disciplines; film, sound and musical input etc. will fit in.

Developing this piece I’ve had to dig deep into my world as a partially sighted person and try to get more specific about which bits of my life story I want to share. For sure I’m in active conversation with all the creative team about how to present the literal and metaphoric layers in ‘Learning to See’.

Together we’re exploring how to interweave the traditional material, film and soundwork into my story. The first half has moved on massively and now we are turning our attention to the second half, which presents relatively uncharted territory so far.

One of the exciting areas that’s got ton’s of theatrical potential to play with is around all the stupid things the general public think they’ve got permission to ask or say to visually impaired people and how we think, feel and respond. If we all had a penny each time someone asked “how much can you see?” or “where’s your little doggy?” then we’d all be rich.

The other side of the coin is all the misunderstood communication, partly caused through the obvious lack of eye contact and inability to read facial expression and cope with the environments and stressful situations we find ourselves in.

Over the last few months I’ve been reflecting on my experience as part of VI culture at special school and beyond ‘how I communicate and how others within the VI community communicate and how the sighted interrelate with us. I want my audience to come on a journey with me as I grow and to question their own life assumptions and perceptions.

Half of ‘Learning to See’ examines my life as a partially sighted child and teenager when I didn’t want anything to do with being visually impaired; wouldn’t use a white cane etc – masking vision wherever I could. I hadn’t a clue how to ask for help when I needed it, hadn’t been taught too, I was naively unaware of my identity let alone any disability politics. The challenges of growing up in a world that expected me to conform to be as ‘normal and sighted as I could be’ presented a set of complex problems to unpick and solve.

The more I began to learn about cultural diversity, social justice and accept who I was the more assertive I became. Assertive and direct communication is something that I’ve noticed amongst some of the other visually impaired people I know and in my view, it is definitely part of visually impaired communication culture.

This assertive approach can cause miscommunication and misunderstandings. I’ve certainly been guilty on several occasions (butting in inappropriately and I know I’m known for being direct - not necessarily a great reputation to have)

With 75% of information being received through visual media, we’ve got to find a way to find out what’s happening. If you have a visual impairment you are having to use all your physical and emotional energy concentrating on every aspect of daily living activity and this is extremely tiring and can result in a ‘more’ assertively expressed viewpoint.

Most of the time you’re not going to find out what’s happening unless you ask because we don’t have audio description on tap and many of us don’t have Access or PA support in place.

I don’t know how far we’ll get in representing some of this but these reflections inform every aspect of ‘Learning to See’.