Disabled people and asylum-seekers have worked together on a mural that illustrates some of the barriers they face in society, and which acts as a tribute to a disabled asylum-seeker who was murdered in 2016.
The mural, on the side of a community centre in Easton, Bristol, is the latest to be produced over the last decade through the Disability Murals project, originally run by the UK Disabled People’s Council.
Progress on the Easton mural (pictured) was unveiled on Friday to mark Human Rights Day.
Among the designs featured on the walls of the community centre is an idea that was originally contributed by Kamil Ahmad, who had worked on another mural in Bristol before he was murdered by a racist neighbour in July 2016.
It shows him holding his head in his hands in despair.
Researcher-activist Rebecca Yeo, who has been working on the project since it began, said she had been involved with the disabled people’s movement for many years but had become aware when she started working with asylum-seekers of how the UK asylum system was “actively and deliberately disabling”.
She said at the launch that the mural “includes messages and images from Deaf and disabled activists, from disabled students and academics, from refugees, from homeless asylum-seekers and from people with many of those experiences combined”.
She said there was a lot of overlap between disabled people and people with experience of the asylum system, although some of those they worked with do not identify as disabled.
She said: “We bring people together, to learn from each other and to build understanding of the similarities and differences in our experiences.”
One of the asylum-seekers who has worked on the mural describes in a video that is being produced as part of the project that he has experienced mental distress due to living on the streets for more than three years with no food and no place to live.
His experience is illustrated in the mural through an image of a politician who ignores a homeless asylum-seeker sitting next to him in despair under a bush.
He says: “We’ve learned a lot about the politician man. But they know you live in this [situation]… they didn’t care.”
Another of those who have contributed to the mural is Lynn Stewart-Taylor, founder of the #WhereIsTheInterpreter campaign.
She describes in the video how Deaf people felt “stuck”, “left out” and “marginalised” by the government’s failure to provide a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter at coronavirus television briefings.
Her part of the mural shows a Deaf person signing from within a cage, with a hand outside asking: “Where is the interpreter?”
Stewart-Taylor says: “It’s really, really impactful and demonstrates these barriers, that the cage is restricting.
“You can’t get out. You can’t see what else is around. You can’t be part of helping other people.
“I think that one day we will see that cage removed, but the fight continues until we’ve got equality.”
Janet, an asylum-seeker, describes on the video being refused a bus ticket because she only has cash and no bank card.
She says: “I would like people to understand the struggles that we have in this country… so it was very embarrassing, very shameful for everybody to be looking at you in the bus and you pretended that you were checking that your card is in the pocket, but you don’t have.”
Lizzy Horn, a young disabled woman who contributed an image of a dead flower in front of a window to the mural, describes how “you can kind of watch the world going on around you but not access it”.
She says the lockdown allowed non-disabled people to experience a little of what her life had been like for the last 13 years.
Another of the ideas represented in the mural – through a chain with broken links – is that the COVID-19 pandemic has broken many of the links that previously helped support disabled people and asylum-seekers.
Mike Steel, from Bristol Reclaiming Independent Living (BRIL), said: “One of the ideas behind the whole mural is that COVID has exposed or magnified what’s been going on anyway… the exclusion that disabled people, people with chronic illness, feel.”
He said the project had “brought together Deaf campaigners, people from disabled people’s organisations, refugee organisations, but basically just people from Bristol, ordinary people” to both represent through the mural what has happened and “how awful it’s been, but also that things can be really different”.
The artwork was led by mural artist Andrew Bolton, with the project supported by the Thinking Futures social sciences festival, Quartet Community Foundation, BRIL, Eastside Community Trust, The University of Bath’s public engagement unit, the University of Bristol’s public engagement team, Bristol City of Sanctuary and Bristol Hospitality Network.
Picture by Mark Simmons
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