Celebrating the work of disabled artists

September 2, 2021

A number of specially commissioned projects celebrating the work and experiences of D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent artists during lockdown are now available to watch, listen and experience on BBC iPlayer and across other BBC platforms.

The projects were commissioned in May as part of a wider partnership between BBC Arts, Arts Council England, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Arts Council of Wales and Creative Scotland to mark the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act into law, forming part of wider disability programming across the BBC.

The film and audio works commissioned include performance dramas, dance, comedy, spoken word poetry, music and animation, with the majority of artists highlighting aspects of the disabled experience of living through the pandemic.

The commissions were selected by a panel including representatives from BBC Arts, Arts Council England, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Arts Council of Wales, Creative Scotland, Unlimited and the UK Disability Arts Alliance.

Nicola Chegwin in Hen Night, credit: Rhys Fagan

Each artist was supported by an Executive Producer from The Space in partnership with Unlimited.

SILENT WORLD – Signkid, England

A creative exploration and amplification of the covid-19 pandemic as experienced through the eyes of Signkid, a deaf-rapper in London. This musical short film creatively explores the ‘silent world’ that has intensified and deepened for D/deaf people in the course of the COVID pandemic. It visualises the sense of isolation, fear and societal disconnection that the hearing world has been experiencing – the sort of isolation that D/deaf people experience every day.

Hen Night – Vici Wreford-Sinnott, England

Fiercely independent Jessica, a young disabled woman, is training to be a teacher and dreams of being a writer. It’s Friday, 13 March 2020 and the global pandemic is emerging, budget cuts are being made and the threat of a first lockdown looms. We meet Jessica returning home from a ‘rush job’ hen night at Dante’s nightclub, where leather-and-chain-clad men served drinks suggestively. Jessica’s ‘last night of freedom’ is far from what any of us could imagine, as the independent life she has worked so hard for is turned upside down when she is told her care package is to be cut.

Spectrum Sounds – Andrew Hugill, England

Join Andrew Hugill, artist and professor of Music & Creative Computing, on a journey through the colours of the spectrum. Born out of his aurally diverse and synaesthetic sense of hearing, this personal odyssey moves through seven experimental compositions, each reflecting a different colour.

Face It – Miranda Walker, England

The Face It comedy drama monologues reveal how two women feel about their faces in the modern swipe-right world, and the unexpected impact of wearing Covid-19 face masks. Meet straight-talking Leonie who has an acquired facial difference and ambitious Abbey who’s no longer prepared to be overlooked.

Crystal Marshall as Leonie in Face It

How to Thrive in 2050: 8 Tentacular Workouts for a Tantalising Future! – Kai Syng Tan, England

A manifesto by a ‘human-octopussy’ of a more creative and equitable future. Blending discourse with mythology, interview with autobiography, geomancy with geopolitics, the intimate and the celestial, this essay is a retort to our troubled moment of multiple crises, and call to imagine and act on how things could become. Prepared to be disorientated, surprised, provoked, and re-energised.

Earth to Alice – Alice McCullough, Northern Ireland

Alice is not ok. Struggling to adjust after a stay in psychiatric hospital, she needs more than meds to clear her head. She needs paint. A short comedy-drama about facing the looking glass, battling blank canvases, going down rabbit holes, pouring your heart out, swimming upstream and all the magical things in between the cracks where the imagined world and the everyday meet. A timely and uncompromising look into the challenges and prejudices many people face on the road to recovery from serious mental illness.

Pandemic Parenting: Pandemonium – Shannon Yee, Northern Ireland

A dance theatre piece exploring the unique and diverse challenges for parents of newly-born and young children during the Covid pandemic. Two young mothers navigate the already-gruelling demands of new parenthood alongside lockdown measures of social distancing, mask-wearing, sanitization, and constant low-grade anxiety mixed with utter exhaustion. Despite these barriers, they eventually find new friendship in each other.

The Cat, The Mouse and The Sausage – Joel Simon, Northern Ireland

Three strangers – a cat, a mouse and a sausage – have to share a small flat in a large city, in order to save money. Deciding to divide the domestic duties; Cat carries out the shopping, Mouse pays the bills and Sausage cooks every day, which leads to a harmonious cohabitation. The equilibrium of their daily routine is disrupted however, when Cat meets an old acquaintance who suggests that he is being taken advantage of. This seed of doubt escalates dramatically in this animated film narrated by Andy Hamilton. It is based on a 19th century folk tale by the Brothers Grimm.

The Cat, The Mouse and The Sausage, Joel Simon
Louder is Not Always Clearer – Jonny Cotsen, Wales

A dinner party is a chance to unwind and relax for most, but for Jonny, who is Deaf, it’s a constant struggle to keep up with his friends and their ever-changing conversations. Disinterested and tired of misunderstandings, Jonny leaves a dinner party to take the viewer on an audio-visual, time-traveling adventure, offering up moments from his life where his deafness has landed him in sticky situations. Louder Is Not Always Clearer tells Jonny’s story of disconnection, difference, and desperation to belong. It is an honest portrayal of a man perceived to be full of confidence and who is outwardly social, but inwardly vulnerable and at times isolated.

Complexity of Skin – Matthew Gough and Krystal S. Lowe, Wales

In a flat during lockdown, two neurodivergent people’s desire for touch collides with the discomfort it causes. Moving in and out of physical contact, they share feelings, memories, hopes, and fears as their relationship develops. As they speak and narrate their experiences, we learn how the complexities of neurodiversity affect their everyday encounters.

Blind-sided – Jamie MacDonald, Scotland

A comedy drama, portraying a day in the lockdown life of blind comedian Jamie MacDonald. As the pandemic hit, Jamie’s high-flying wife landed her dream job as a paediatric surgeon in Sheffield, leaving him little choice but to leave the familiarity of his home in Glasgow. In a strange new place, stripped of the job he worked so hard to define him, he’s had to come up with ways to fill his days and reassert the control he once had over his disability, in a world that’s out of control.

AISLE – Ellen Renton and Jess Fig, Scotland

Animation, poetry, and vocal soundscape come together in an exploration of the everyday ableism faced by disabled people. A character with albinism leads us through three different supermarket experiences. In the first scenario, she visits a pre-pandemic supermarket where she meditates on the inaccessibility of public space, and the complex systems that disabled people have to create for themselves in order to live in an able-bodied world.

Aisle, Ellen Renton