This is a project supported by The City of Melbourne Covid Quick Response Grant. I have interviewed disabled and Deaf artists about how their creative practice has been impacted by Covid-19.
Below are words from cubbie mako – a writer and founding member of Disabled QBIPOC Collective. cubbie’s pronouns are they/them, they are hard of hearing and #ActuallyAutistic.
cubbie mako – writer
cubbie began writing fanfiction almost a decade ago – after spending many months in an exceptionally clean environment – when they were in self-isolation with then two-year-old child.
By 2013, cubbie attended art classes at Footscray Community Art Centre for art therapy, where cubbie’s artwork progressed to creating digital fanart.
Wanting to improve their storytelling, cubbie found themself writing non-fiction under the mentorship of Lee Kofman.
cubbie didn’t know they were Hard-of-Hearing until they joined a writing group. When cubbie couldn’t hear them across the table, in very echo-y room with lots of ambient noise, cubbie would ask to repeat what they said, and able-bodied BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) took offense.
Unfortunately, many BIPOC and QBIPOC hide their disabilities and their gender for fear of backlash or abuse from friends or even their families.
Many migrant communities silence and exclude those who do not follow the (mythical) ‘model minority’. The abuse towards disabled QBIPOC within their families and communities could be twice more difficult due to their invisible disability—which may not have a direct translation into the BIPOC language—and their queerness, because of strict mainly patriarchal structures within these communities.
Is it because of too many intersections the normal, able-bodied people to understand and empathise?
cubbie eventually wrote their experience into a poem titled ‘In the Air’, published via The Suburban Review Issue 12. This ekphrastic poem, in collaboration with media artist MJ Flamiano, who created a video of Deaf Poet Walter Kadiki performing cubbie’s poem.
This collaborative, ekphrastic work between cubbie and MJ was eventually shortlisted in the Queensland Literary Awards.
There is a recently published essay about how cubbie experienced COVID19 in the early weeks of March 2020.
Having been formally diagnosed with Autism a week before COVID19 lockdown began, cubbie had a difficult time dealing with a new diagnosis and the logistical problems faced when in quarantine with their two kids.
Finding food to feed a family of four with an already tight budget and searching for liquid hand sanitisers online to clean accessibility equipment of their disabled child, and assisting in homelearning at the start of school term 2 (mid-April 2020) proved to be overwhelming and challenging for cubbie.
And then, they remembered what they used to do during their first isolation a decade ago: colouring! Together with their child, home learning during the pandemic isolation as a Year 4 student, enrolled in a mainstream public primary school, they would play and colour together.
Even before COVID19, cubbie had no capacity to attend or travel to literary events in Melbourne. As a full-time carer and late-diagnosis autistic, cubbie found crowds and noise overwhelming.
When their self-isolation started, Creatives of Colour organised a Zoom meeting for the Disabled QBIPOC Collective to meet online for the first time. cubbie never heard of Zoom before the pandemic, but towards middle of April to May 2020, things started changing. After receiving the one-off $750 stimulus from the government, things became easier and less stressful, and routines emerged. cubbie was even able to attend a webinar on speculative fiction via Writers Victoria.
And then cubbie attended a Zoom meeting, hosted by Creatives of Colour, where the organisers included live captions.
It was an information session on Covid-19 opportunities facilitated by Auspicious Arts Projects. cubbie was not aware such opportunities existed for artists.
The next day, cubbie applied for a couple of grants. Cubbie never applied for a grant before. But somehow, the organisations made the grants application process simpler and easier because of the urgency of the situation in a pandemic.
And looks like the people in positions of privilege and power have listened to what Disabled artists have been asking since their event at The Wheeler Centre: include the Disabled in the mainstream narrative. Because in the Creative Victoria’s grant called ‘The Sustaining Creative Workers initiative’, the arts grants organisation added a stream for Deaf/Disabled artists living in Victoria.
When we do go out, like, once a week, to replenish medication, or buy food, we wear masks, and sometimes gloves, too. We bring little bottles of hand sanitisers with us. It is a struggle to simply step out of the house.
Also, cubbie observed that the only way Disabled artists get paid gigs during a pandemic are through invitations by white allies who are in positions of privilege and power. Otherwise, our pitches get rejected by able-bodied, white, mainstream narrative.
Finally, because we are in isolation, with libraries closed, we mainly depended on reading via libraries’ digital apps, downloading free ebooks and audiobooks. But where are the Australian BIPOC QBIPOC authors’ books in digital editions? #WeNeedDiverseBooks in digital platforms and libraries e-collections. The trifecta of having a print edition, ebook, and audiobook means accessibility and inclusion for the Disabled, including myself, who needs a print edition to read while listening to the audiobook, and an ebook makes reading easier at night, reading larger fonts in a digital device.
Surprisingly, the Disabled QBIPOC Collective have received multiple invitations to write, to be included in an international panel, to be showcased in Zoom events centring either QBIPOC artists or disabled artists.
The paid gigs gave us the capacity to buy food for our families, for ourselves, especially when we were excluded in government benefits like Jobseeker or Jobkeeper. The petition #RaiseTheDSP wasn’t supported anymore once the other COVID19 benefits were approved.
My top tips to artists and arts organisations for making art digitally accessible:
- To literary arts publishing gatekeepers: #WeNeedDiverseBooks in Australia, which means Australian BIPOC and QBIPOC authors’ books must include #ebook #audiobook because #Accessibility and #InclusionMatters. Moreso now with NDIS continues to roll out across Victoria;
- For online events programmers: from the very start – grant application or budget allocations, please include budget for Auslan interpreters, live captions, and audio descriptions;
- For podcasters please include transcriptions in your podcast, in your grant budget allocation.
In a post-COVID19 world, make accessibility the norm and not an afterthought;
For someone who does not drive a vehicle but prefers to cycle using a three-wheeled cargo-bike or trike, that university courses, the academia and those who hold power and privilege in education to rethink their design principles and make the basic principles include accessibility. (i.e. design, architecture, and (civil) engineering schools’ degrees);
That schools be more inclusive. No one is left behind in a pandemic or in a disaster situation. Include the Disabled in disaster planning strategies. All means all.
As a writer, cubbie wishes webinars, Zoom still be included in face-to-face workshops for audiences who have no capacity to attend events on location.
CB Mako (cubbie) is a non-fiction, fiction, and fan-fiction writer. Winner of the Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writers Competition, shortlisted for the Overland Fair Australia Prize, Queensland Literary Awards-QUT Digital Literature; and longlisted for the inaugural Liminal Fiction Prize, cubbie has been published in The Suburban Review, Mascara Literary Review, The Victorian Writer, Peril Magazine, Djed Press, Overland, Liminal Fiction Prize Anthology (arriving in 202X), and Growing Up Disabled in Australia (via Black Inc Books, February 2021). cubbie is on Twitter and Instagram.
This project has been curated by Carly Findlay and supported by the City of Melbourne Covid grants.