‘Real Human Being’ – Theatre confronts the difficult issue of disability hate crime

 

In a world where disabled people live in increasing fear of being assaulted, harassed and verbally abused, a small theatre project in Wales has taken the brave stance of focusing the spotlight on disability hate crime in trying to educate schoolchildren about the damage such abuse can cause. But will this innovative piece of drama have the desired effect? Or will it simply be drowned out by the torrent of negative media which continues to alienate disabled people from an increasingly intolerant society?

Disability hate crime is a very real problem in today’s British culture. More than 2,000 such offences were committed in 2011, which demonstrated an increase of about a third since 2010. In an age where other forms of hate crime are on the decline, this statistic seems particularly unnerving and there seems to be no sign of improvement.

In fact, in the current climate of austerity, the situation is arguably getting worse. Whilst Parliament continues its crusade to cut disability benefits, certain parts of the British media have done their best to label those on disability support as scroungers or worse, criminals.

The act of fraudulently claiming goverment hand-outs is indeed a disgraceful act of dishonesty, which should not go unpunished. Nevertheless, the continual scapegoating of those unfortunate enough to rely on state support, is having a worrying impact on society as a whole. Disabled people, in particular, have become the most vulnerable minority group in society with many accepting abuse as part and parcel of their daily lives.

It was therefore encouraging to see the charity, Disability Wales coming together with the Taking Flight Theatre company to feature a production designed to bring this issue to the fore. In an attempt to inform young people on the impact of disability hate crime on disabled people and raise disability awareness, Taking Flight are staging ‘Real Human Being’, an innovative forum theatre piece aimed specifically at twelve to fourteen-year-old children.

The project started in November last year, focusing on schools in the Bridgend area of South Wales and will run until March 2013. The cast includes the likes of Cara Readle, who played ‘Layla’ in ‘The Story of Tracy Beaker’ and ‘Elen’ in ‘Baker Boys’ not to mention Dan Edge who wowed the crowds with his stunning aerial performance at the London Paralympics Opening Ceremony. With such an impressive line-up, it will no doubt grab a young audience’s attention.

But will it achieve its aim? Such initiatives as ‘Real Human Being’ should be welcomed. The arts remains one of the best ways to educate and inform. The fact that Take Flight has chosen to tackle disability hate crime is a courageous move. As with disability in children’s books, disability in theatre serves a very important purpose, not only to raise disability awareness in general, but also to focus on key issues affecting disabled people.

That said, one can’t help but feel that with so much negative feeling towards disabled people, little will be achieved in terms of a real shift to solve disability hate crime. Such a goal, would take serious positive intervention by the government and given current policy, this seems unlikely.

Perhaps the most notable thing about this project, is the fact that a theatre company regards the issue of disability hate crime as so important, that it requires exploration on the stage. Theatre as well as literature has a habit of seeking out society’s flaws and bringing them to the attention of a wider audience. Take Flight has taken the very important first step as identifying disability hate crime as an issue to be fought. I only hope other theatre groups pick up the baton when ‘Real Human Being’ finishes its run next month.

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