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8th September 2014

Deep-sea diving … in a wheelchair?

What is the first word that comes to your mind when you think of deep sea diving? Freedom, floating, excitement, adventure? How about wheelchair?

“It’s wonderful to be here… to talk about the wheelchair and the freedom it has brought me.” This was the opening line of Sue Austin’s TEDxWomen talk. A strong statement and an even more powerful message. How is disability perceived? What do we associate wheelchairs and their users with? And most importantly: how can we change this?

Sue Austin is a performance artist, and when she started using her new ‘toy’ as part her art sixteen years ago, she was startled by the unoriginal cliched reactions of condescendence and pity. She knew that in order to shape the preconceptions people suddenly had towards her, she had to show them the joy and freedom she felt and the liberation her wheelchair brought her.

Then she did something really cool. Against all the odds she decided she wanted to do deep sea diving. As you might imagine, the market for underwater wheelchairs is not exactly flooded (pun intended). So she built one. The above photo is the mindblowingly surreal result.

Now that’s how you re-shape the word ‘disabled’. Scroll to 4:00 in this video and click to make it full screen. Then get lost for two minutes with Sue as she navigates her way along the sea floor.

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Header Photo Credit: TED talks