Ferris Knight - No one ever told me I was disabled

Arts Access Victoria presents The Museum of Us

In this photo series artist Feris Knight explores the systemic issues within our society, and how important having a voice is.

White chair in forefront. On the chair, in bold black letters, reads ‘ACCESS ISN’T A SEAT – IT’S A SEAT AND VOICE AT THE TABLE’. In the background is a house under construction. It is geometric, double story, with steps out the front
No one ever told me I was disabled.

There was so much gatekeeping around this term, as though it were a diagnosis in its own right, reserved for those who were ‘really’ sick, ‘really’ sore, really, really, really.

I, on the other hand, was just ‘not trying hard enough’. There were others with my labels who led ‘fully functioning’ lives. All these messy quotation marks everywhere.

On the other hand, I’d stand on the tram, holding on the handrails, swaying further in the motions than the other commuters as gravity pulled my aches to curl on the ground.

The accessible seats would look at me, their patterns creating a fantastical alien twisted by my weakness into a hundred unmatching, colourful eyes telling me no.

My blood pressure would drop or the pain and weakness would be too much and I’d give in, sitting down in these labelled seats that have stick figure pictures that show how disabilities are visible. 

Now the human eyes were all looking at me as I was selfish, not disabled.

I felt so alone like I was the alien. There’s something like five thousand stars we can see from earth. Maybe I was from one of those, from somewhere cold and remote.

The gravity wouldn’t crush my body, the sun would rise and set at times that worked with my alertness, there would be others like me instead of just having a constellation of symptoms enclosed in my frame.

Instead, I was existing in a world not built for someone like me.

There were stairs everywhere that I couldn’t get up. Everyone was expected to be able to walk without aid. People could regulate their emotions all by themselves instead of it bursting outwards like a supernova.

It wasn’t until I was shown that disability is more than a label, it’s a community, that I stopped looking elsewhere to find my home. That I took up space on this planet instead of looking up and feeling like I had just landed here. I wasn’t alone.

I am disabled. I claim that word and now I claim my space.

I deserved to exist in this world. You deserve to exist in this world. Access isn’t a seat – it’s a seat and voice at the table. So let’s take the space we need to for that to happen.

About the work

This photo series is about systemic issues within our society, and how important having a voice is.

It shows off some areas where we need to be visible being represented. This isn’t about a single store, for instance – rather, that image represents retail and fashion – or that house in particular being inaccessible, but instead the wider conversations around housing accessibility, affordability and developments.

There is a story accompanying this photo series, based on my own experiences with disability and what visibility has meant for my life. It takes on an alien
metaphor because of how alone I felt continually defying the expectations, having label upon label upon label interact with each other in unexpected ways, and
especially my feelings of being out of control and unknown.

While we aren’t seen and heard, more and more people feel alone in what they’re going through. We’re invisible as long as we believe we are alone and when we don’t have accessible avenues of creating communities. In researching this piece, I found that being represented wasn’t enough, but that a voice and respect was necessary for change. Seeing other disabled people take up space both inspired me as well as helped me find a community. I learnt about the social model of disability and it changed my whole perspective. Going forward means visibility and voice, not just tokenism, in all different areas. More than four million Australians have disabilities. We need to be able to access houses, be represented and protected by laws and organisations, and wear whatever we like. Access isn’t a seat – it’s a seat and voice at the table. I want to see more people like me, people like you, claiming their space. 

Audio version of the text