I’ve worked with lots of Disabled people over the years, facilitating cartoon workshops mainly, but also getting involved as a co-facilitator in equality or empowerment workshops. This cartoon came from one of the latter workshops and is based upon a true event!

I remember arriving at the venue and seeing our posters up around the place advertising the empowerment workshop. No problem with that. We’d even sent some other material in advance, photos and other work created by Disabled participants so that it could be displayed around the building in order to encourage users of this facility to participate. No, it was the wording that had been added to the posters that got us worked up!


Come and be empowered

“Come and be empowered” was the invitation. Not, ‘’Your chance to work with other Disabled people and learn how to empower yourself’, which is what we’d had printed on the posters originally. Some member of staff had reworked the wording and “Come and be empowered” was now the central message for our workshop.  And it just went down hill from that point on really.

It was clear that the ethos of the facility, despite being renamed from its original ‘Sheltered Workshop’ to ‘Resource Centre’ was very much run and controlled by the non-disabled staff. It was not what we’d been led to believe during our initial contact with the place. Things were being ‘done’ to Disabled people with a vengeance, and the alterations to our workshop material just brought it into line with the rest of the activities.

To cut a long story short, we ended up expelling the non-disabled care staff from the workshop and encouraging the dozen or so Disabled users to think outside of their usually restrictive box and try for a bit of anarchy! It was funny seeing the centre staff hovering around outside of the room with worried expressions on their faces, and even more so when we taped large sheets of flip chart paper over the windows and doors that faced out into the corridors to ensure our privacy!


Out pouring

The issues came pouring out once the users realised that all of us facilitators were also Disabled people like themselves and that they had a free hand to express whatever they wanted about the running of the place. By the end of the first day (this was to be a three day workshop) they had also learned that not only did Disabled people now run and control their own Resource Centres in other areas of the country, but that these other Disabled users were also involved in hiring and firing of the non-disabled centre staff. We had a near revolution on our first day when they began to appreciate just how controlled they were in this particular facility.


The message board

The message board incident came about when one of the Disabled users, who pointed at words and symbols on a message board with his feet, managed to convey to us all that he was getting very frustrated. The staff had constructed his board for him and had obviously played safe, only giving him a limited response to certain situations. He wanted to change this and so, together with him and some of the other users, we came up with several new boards for him. One new board related to football, which he was mad about, another about socialising, another about clothes, and one very special one with which to communicate with certain members of staff.

This was the one pictured in the cartoon at the beginning of this article, which told them in no uncertain terms what he felt about an idea – bollocks or crap, and what they should do on certain occasions – fuck off! Despite several attempts by carers and staff to lose this particular board, it was still doing the rounds several years later when we saw him at a Disability Arts Event!

Description of cartoon for those who use screen reading software

A young white male wheelchair user is pointing with his foot at a word board on the floor in front of him. The board has four sections. The first section has ‘I’m not stupid’ written in it. The second section has ‘You’re working for me!’. The third section has ‘Go away!’ and the last section has ‘stop patronising me’. Facing him is a care worker who has ‘care team’ written on his t-shirt. He is thinking: “not sure that this new word board was such a good idea!”

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