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How Jenny Sealey's Award Affirms Disability Arts as a Life-Giving Force

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I was thrilled to learn that Jenny Sealey, artistic director of Graeae, had won the Human Rights Arts Award in Liberty's annual awards ceremony on Monday night.

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To quote Sealey:

"This is such an important award to win. It is a recognition that the work of Graeae and indeed the Paralympic Opening Ceremony is rooted in Human Rights. It recognises that art empowers, transforms perceptions and challenges prejudice. It is vital that our work carries on with even more drive and determination as there is every danger with the cuts to benefits and the arts that Deaf and disabled people once again will be relegated to the sidelines and forgotten."

Hear, hear.

The award couldn't be more timely. At a time when people with disabilities are facing deep cuts in their finances - and our own PM wilfully scraps vital equality impact assessments - disability arts become akin to a life-giving sun, like Prometheus breathing fire into man in Greek mythology (incidentally a subject that the company Sealey heads, Graeae, explored to heart-stopping effect last summer).

The arts are our escape and our salvation; our opportunity to celebrate diversity in its purest, shimmering glory. Whenever something disability or deaf arts-related materialises near me - like a haggard sun-worshipper, I gravitate towards it, in spirit if not in person.

I used to work in the arts. For a time I ran my own grant-funded visual arts organisation, where deaf and hard-of-hearing people mingled and explored deaf culture in the widest possible context, from their own individual perspectives. However broke I still was at the end of the project, being in such close proximity to artists at work left me feeling reinvigorated, as if I'd just returned from a holiday that oozed culture in the sun. I hope to return to the arts one day, when my children are in full-time education.

Yet even the arts suffer in the bleak economic midwinter. Last month Ardent Hare - formerly Dada-South, a leading disability arts organisation in the South-East of England - made the shock announcement that after ten years, they would close at the end of 2012. However hard they tried, they could not survive the cut to their Arts Council England funding. Such news compels me, again and again, to ask for more deaf and disabled people to show solidarity in their support of disability arts.

No-one in their right mind with Vitamin D deficiency would consider hibernating in the Arctic Circle during the winter solstice when the sun never rises (no, not even with six months' worth of tablets). As a stimulus that transcends barriers and rejuvenates people with disabilities, the arts are a vital platform where they can stand proud and shout (as they did in the Paralympic Opening Ceremony): I am what I am! For many people with disabilities I know, it is their lifeblood.

That is why Jenny Sealey places so much emphasis on the Paralympic Opening Ceremony and the work of Graeae - themselves a beacon of the arts - being rooted in Human Rights. In penetrating us with their irrepressible solar rays, disability arts give us fire in our bellies and cause to be utterly and unashamedly ourselves. To strip us of this life-affirming force would mean stripping us of another right to assert ourselves - effectively inciting us to lose the will to live.