Artist captures the freedom and joy of using a wheelchair

Artwork is constantly being utilized as a tool to change societal views. Sue Austin explains how her art form is reconstructing the connotations around wheelchairs and the people who use them. Following an illness, Austin began using a wheelchair in 1996, and immediately observed the change in how people viewed her. For Austin, using her wheelchair represented freedom from the restrictions she’d feared, yet others “seemed to see me in terms of their assumptions of what it must be like to be in a wheelchair.” Faced with the negative perspectives that most of society has regarding people using wheelchairs, Austin realized she was starting to internalize these negative thoughts. She decided to craft her own narrative of her experience using a wheelchair, and how it connected with her identity. In the TedTalk below, Austin states that she wished to communicate the “joy and freedom” she felt when she used her power chair. Her search to represent her view of using a wheelchair through art resulted in Austin creating an underwater wheelchair, and revealing that “an arts practice can transform one’s identity.” Combining using a wheelchair with scuba diving, Austin began documenting her journeys underwater. Included in Austin’s presentation is a mesmerizing video of Austin using her underwater wheelchair to explore coral reefs. As revealed in the audience present for Austin’s TedTalk, Austin has successfully used her artwork to push people to regard wheelchairs and the people who use them in a new and different way – to truly see the “value of difference.”

This video may begin with a commercial which was not chosen by or for the benefit of DisAbility Rights Galaxy.

Emily Pate is a third-year student at Seattle University interested in Strategic Communications, learning Spanish, and working with non-profits. Her work for Rooted In Rights is focused on discussing current events in the community of people with disabilities. Her experience previous to Rooted In Rights includes writing broadcasts for KBOO radio in Portland, OR, and managing a neighborhood blog in the Seattle community. In addition to work, Emily enjoys drawing, spending time with her friends and family, and backpacking.