‘Activism, Ambition, Action…and Austerity? Disabled Young People Speak Out!’


A drawing of Touretteshero, drawn by one of the young attendees from 42nd Street


On 5th November, my colleague Rich Currie and I hosted a successful ESRC Festival of Social Sciences event, ‘Activism, Ambition, Action…and Austerity? Disabled Young People Speak Out!’. The aim of the event was to bring together disabled young people, researchers, activists, allies, artists, advocates, students and associated professionals and policy makers to instigate dialogues concerning disability, youth and ambition in the context of an increasingly precarious environment for disabled people in Britain.

“Today has helped me to see that laughter and sequins can be used creatively and collaboratively for social change.” (Academic)

Situated around the following questions, we ran sessions that were accessible, highly interactive and aimed at young people:

  • In the context of austerity, what are young people’s ambitions for their own futures?
  • How can young people’s ambitions be fostered in austere and disabling contexts?
  • ‘Where are we’ in terms of disability youth activism and young disabled people’s organisations in Britain?
  • How might we resist? Is making claims for disability justice (Mingus 2011), rather than disability rights, a more worthwhile project in austere times?
  • How can we maintain meaningful dialogues between social scientists/research communities and young people in Britain, in ways that work towards disability justice?
“Today has opened my mind and eyes to disabled people and their future.”
(Young person)

My own imagined better life world: public and private spaces that are inclusive and respectful of a diversity of bodies.

Excitingly, we were lucky enough to have well-known and well-loved activist, campaigner and artist, Touretteshero, as our keynote speaker for the day. Touretteshero’s activism has garnered inter/national media attention over the past few years since the publication of her bestselling book, Welcome to Biscuit Land: A Year in the Life of Touretteshero, Souvenir Press Ltd. You can read Touretteshero’s fantastic account of the day, and her keynote speech in full, here. We were also thrilled to have Dr Jenny Slater, Sheffield Hallam University, and Dr Anat Greenstein, University of Manchester come and run a fun and interactive workshop, The Best-Ever Futures Workshop: A Tool Box for Change. This workshop required us to imagine our best-ever future worlds and express these through a ‘toolbox’ filled with a range of weird and wonderful objects: from the communist manifesto and the bible, to toy diggers and spades, to seeds and potatoes… Our tools, combined with lots of plastercine, stickers, coloured paper, felt pens and crayons, served as creative means through which to imagine the change we want to see in the world. Sadly, due technological failure Mad activist Danielle Landry from the School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University, Toronto couldn’t be Skyped in for her talk. However, if you would like to access some of the key themes from Danielle’s brilliant talk about Mad activism and politics, please see: Landry_Asylum2013.
“Today as taught me to be bolder in the work I do.”
(42nd Street professional)