It was fantastic to attend TEDxLondon #BeyondBorders with my fellow Young Challenge Group members on 18th May. The Young Challenge Group is the youth advisory and advocacy group for Challenge London - a programme led by A New Direction with funding from Arts Council England, to invest into 4-year partnership investment initiatives supporting cultural education across our city.
With our responsibility as advocates and advisors, it’s important that we think big and understand the barriers to young people accessing cultural education. I didn’t always have access to the joys of London’s culture when I was growing up, with events such as TED out of reach for me as an autistic, working-class person on the outskirts of south-west London.
Hussain Manawer, a Poet and Mental Health Campaigner, hosted the event, and kept the energy up by inviting the audience to partake in a call and response (imagine the voice of old skool Garage MC) ‘Alright’ ‘OK!’, harking back to the 90s culture of London.
First, we saw The Choir With No Name – a choir made up of those who have been affected by homelessness, run in partnership with Look Ahead. The Choir asked what springs to mind when we imagine a homeless person, and then presented the huge diversity of the choir members on stage. As someone who has spent time sofa surfing, I was welling up very quickly. I resonated with the use of an art form for self-expression and actualisation. As one of the choir members commented, "singing restores a sense of self-worth that may have been lost”.
Already welling up listening to the @ChoirwithNoName at #TedXLondon @tedxlondon— AMY ASPIE (@AmyAspie) May 18, 2019
Please excuse me as I put my fingers in my ears during clapping - I'm #ActuallyAutistic and the loudness can be the most tiring thing! pic.twitter.com/2Ra8qPlIPn
Next up was Tashi Baiguerra – an actor and musician with Aspergers Syndrome, who urged us to think about autism beyond the stereotypes, particulalry as autistic women tend to have a very different presentation. Treating everyone as a human and recognising neurodiversity will allow autistic people to thrive in society and at work - a place of equality we are still quite far from reaching. It is incredible to see a spotlight suddenly being shone on our neurodivergent community, after spending so long outside of the mainstream. If you want to hear more autistic voices, definitely check out the #ActuallyAutistic hashtag on Twitter.
The following speaker was Peter Apps, a Global Affairs Commentator and Writer who was paralysed from the shoulders down in a car accident whilst reporting on the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2006. He spoke eloquently about the scary times we are living through, and contrasted that against the history of global affairs, when we previously thought the fall of the Berlin Wall was the ‘end of history’. He made some important points about the safety of the welfare state, which has been there for him with his disability.
From that morning session, a few themes jumped out for me. It was empowering to hear from two disabled speakers, right at the beginning of the day. These voices are often marginalised and their experience of depending on social services and welfare can be forgotten by so many who don’t engage with these services. It’s important to remember why we created this safety net for others.
The welfare state, equality for people with difference perceptions, and the importance of a driving creative force that allows us to express ourselves - whether through art forms such as singing and performing, or the journalistic pursuit of writing about global affairs - are big ideas, and each of the speakers push beyond the borders of perceived ‘normality’. It will be awesome to see the videos of the talks up online, available for the whole world to see, because big ideas truly are borderless.
Image credit: TedxLondon