In the first episode of the Download from Disability Now, Paul Carter and Penny Pepper celebrate UK Disability History Month by looking at the significant roles disabled people have played throughout history. They are joined by Richard Rieser, UKDHM’s coordinator and Emma Thatcher from Cooltan Arts, a charity run by and for people with mental health issues which organises heritage walks. Tara Flood talks about a project run by the Alliance for Inclusive Education and the British Library to record the experiences of disabled people in education. Finally, Mik Scarlet tells us the story behind the Download’s theme music.
EMMA:I mean, I think it can be really therapeutic for everybody to take part in creative activities. So, yes, definitely, I think it’s important for people to have a chance to have the chance to express themselves.
PENNY:Okay, I think that’s it, Emma, thank you so much for joining us.
PENNY:There’s more details on Cool Tan events on their and our websites.
PAUL:Finally, how do you describe Mik Scarlet? Presenter, musician, broadcaster, journalist, actor, writer, he’s a fairly versatile bloke. Now we can add composer of our great new theme tune music to those credits. A little bit earlier on, I spoke to Mik about his thoughts on Disability History Month and, also, the story behind the music you’ve been hearing throughout this show.
MIK:The track is called ‘Fantasy,’ it’s a remix of a track I recorded when I was in a band called, ‘Eroticis.’ Now, before everyone gets a bit flustered, what eroticis means, it’s a name for an Italian bawdy operetta. It was kind of performed for the masses. And, when I was in this band, that was pretty much what we were. We recorded a single for a record company and that was, this is one of the remixes that we did. You know, you do a single, then you do a thousand remixes and then you release two different versions of the same single with the remixes on to try and make as much money as possible. You know, you can’t chart if you don’t do that. But when we came to shoot the video, it all became a bit tricky. Because someone in the record company had, kind of, had a head scratching moment and decided that they were going to need to hide the wheelchair.
PAUL:Oh, right …
MIK: Because I think it’s one of the things that people don’t understand. You know, all disabled people go, “Ooh, isn’t the media terrible,” when there’s not many disabled people in the media. Well, think about disabled pop stars, you can’t. And they always go, “Ooh, there’s Ian Dury, Stevie Wonder, the bloke from the Mystery Jacks” – I don’t know his name because I’m far too old to know young peoples’ names. But, you know, there’s not a huge amount. And when you try to work in the music industry, especially if you want to be a kind of front man of a band which I did, you see what real discrimination is. Because they not only discriminate against you, but they discriminate against you in such a blatant way. When we turned up, there was a sofa and a bed and some flowers laid on the floor, all weird stuff, and the director went “Well what we’re going to do here is we’re going to get you to sit on the sofa and sing the song, lay on the bed and sing the song, roll about in the flowers and sing the song,” …
PAUL:Anything but in the chair …
MIK:Yes, and I think that’s really sly, that’s great, I’d love to do it, but when am I going to do the performance section of the video? And they went, “Well, we’re not going to do the performance because we don’t want to see the chair,” And this annoyed me in two reasons. One, because I couldn’t see how I was going to perform, you know, like when you’re in a band, you do Pas, you do gigs, and the audience are going to see I’m in a wheelchair, they’re not going to go, “Well, that’s a bit kinky, he’s showing a wheelchair! They’re a bit of a fetishy band,” …
PAUL:This really is a bawdy operator …
MIK:Yes, that’s it, “they’re all a bit sexy, they’ve gone for the whole cripple lark, that’s a bit pervy innit.” But also, at the time, I was still doing a lot of television, and so I was Mik Scarlet, that bloke off the telly. And, you know, everyone knows I’m in a wheelchair, so why am I hiding it? But, also, there was that element of I’m really proud of being disabled, so why would I want to hide it? It made no sense.
PAUL:We’re talking about Disability History Month in this episode. Just wonder if I can get your thoughts on what Disability History Month means to you and its relevance?
MIK:Well, I think it’s really important that we’ve, disabled people kind of have trudged along trying to get rights for as long as I’ve been alive and longer. But, you know, I remember, you know, as I learn about history, things about different laws getting passed at different stages, I think oh, I remember, I was five when that happened, I was seven when that happened. And last time I was fast approaching fifty. It’s quite scary to think that, you know, we’re at a point now where the government seems to dismantle all the things that we’ve spent years fighting for.
MIK:And that’s in my life time, but if you think back further than that, I know a lot of Disability History Month is focused around the history of disability in our society, but I think it should also focus upon further back than that, you know, you’ve got huge sort of people in history, big figures, that had disabilities. I mean, what I always say is you’ve got Julius Caesar who was an epileptic. And, whether you like it or not, a lot of the things he did, you could say, were to do with him living in a society where he had to hide his disability, when he had to over compensate. So why did he want to become emperor of the known world? Well, without being funny, I’m sure that most of us would like to become emperor of the known world. And if we relived in a society where we could hide our disability and at the same time get that amount of power, we’d probably do it.
PAUL:Well, that’s all we’ve got time for on the first ever edition of The Download from Disability Now. I’d like to thank both of our guests who’ve joined us in the studio today, Richard Rieser and Emma Thatcher. I’ve certainly had a great time, Penny, how was it for you?
PENNY:I think that was jolly marvellous, Paul, can’t wait to do more.
Jingle:E-mail: HYPERLINK “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org” email@example.com and follow us at Disability Now.