PHOTO CREDITS: WEAREFREEWHEELING.ORG.UK/ SUE AUSTIN
“Preconceptions rob people of their life. These negative associations we have with disability and disability equipment cause people to get depressed and accept these labels or become the negative.”
Some may not associate scuba diving as an activity for persons with disabilities to be doing, but Sue Austin is pushing the boundaries of what is possible for those living with disabilities, and has redefined the way people relate to wheelchair users.
When Sue Austin lost her mobility after an extended illness in the mid-90s, she was unable to access much of the outside world for some time. After the use of a wheelchair enabled her better access and mobility, she embarked on an arts practice that has taken her around the world. Sue, a performance and installation artist, first got involved with diving in 2005, and felt that the sport granted her freedom and greater access to the rest of the world. She trained as a disabled diver, and has certifications from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors. When she proposed the idea of deep sea diving, experts were strongly against the idea because her wheelchair was not well-equipped to do so. With the help of dive experts, engineers, academics and funding from places like England’s Arts Council, Sue’s vision was realized, and she was able to use a modified wheelchair to move underwater, using scuba diving equipment in 2012. This was performed as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
Sue does not view herself as inspirational, but she is amazed and delighted by the response the work has received. Sue understands the defining power of social stereotypes and wants to share her experience so that others can avoid becoming trapped by the caricatures of prejudice. For more information on Sue Austin, log on to www.wearefreewheeling.org.uk