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Australia Drag queen Dizzy Bility's shining a glamorous spotlight on disability in the arts

01:20  27 november  2021
01:20  27 november  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Drag queen Dizzy Bility says she's been welcomed by the drag community, and her disability has not impeded her.  (Instagram) © Provided by ABC Health Drag queen Dizzy Bility says she's been welcomed by the drag community, and her disability has not impeded her.  (Instagram)

Dizzy Bility is a drag queen from Sydney who wears hearing aids and is legally blind.

Instead of letting that hold her back, she has made it part of her glamorous act and hopes to change perceptions along the way.

"I was a dancer growing up, and even though I couldn't hear the music very well I just worked hard at remembering and staying in time," she says.

"You just learn how to do it in a way that makes sense for you."

Dizzy was born with Usher Syndrome type 2, a condition characterised by partial or total hearing loss and vision loss that worsens over time.

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She says the drag community has been very welcoming, and her disability has not been an issue.

"The drag community in Sydney is very loving, there's a lot of shade here but it's all done from love and respect," she says.

"It's not easy to do drag and I think we all understand that. They've always accepted me and made room for me which is a testament to the community here."

Nightclubs supportive

Dizzy says her experiences have helped her become "better at asking for help"

"Clubs have been very accommodating, and it's been a blessing," she says.

"Clubs here always allow me to have someone with me to help me around. Everyone knows about me, and all the girls have helped me out.

"I came into the industry because I wanted to entertain people and I wanted to be a role model for people who are differently able.

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"I hope I'm changing people's perceptions."

Dizzy says audiences have responded positively to her and her show, particularly when she shares her personal experiences.

She believes it puts them at ease to see she can talk so freely about her life and her problems.

"I have used sign language in my act before," she says.

"In my cabaret shows I talk a lot about living with my disabilities and share funny stories about that experience."

Disabled artists paid less: report

The Australia Council for the Arts recently published a paper titled Towards Equity, compiled using existing data and evidence on equity and diversity in the arts.

The report noted the range of challenges in getting accurate data on representation for disabled people in the arts sector.

It estimated only 9 per cent of practising professional artists currently identify as having a disability.

The council's research also revealed a significant pay gap, with professional disabled artists earning an estimated 42 per cent less than their non-disabled counterparts.

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Importance of respectful environment

Cody Greenwood is the founder of Rush Films and the producer of West Australian short film Sparkles starring Tina Fielding, a local writer and actress with Down Syndrome.

She's rapidly earning herself a reputation as one of Australia's most promising film producers.

Ms Greenwood acknowledges assisting Ms Fielding in making her first film was a learning process.

The film follows a 37-year-old woman with Down syndrome who runs away from home and embarks on a journey from Kalgoorlie to Perth, forming an unlikely friendship with an outback drag queen.

"Tina was not only writing, but also starring, and co-directing in the film, which was a significant amount of work for one person," Ms Greenwood says.

"We navigated any challenges that arose during filming by keeping our lines of communication consistently open and ensuring everyone felt they had the space to feedback in a collaborative and respectful environment."

Ms Fielding is a passionate advocate for diversity within the arts sector while herself identifying as someone living with a disability.

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"I made Sparkles to show that I'm not just someone with Down Syndrome but that I am also part of LGBTQIA+ community and I wanted to show that to the world," she says.

Lived experiences of disability crucial

Ms Greenwood says perceptions within the film industry about disability representation on screen are changing, but at a slow pace.

"When working with diverse content and creatives, it is crucial that we bring in lived experience to guide the creation of characters and narratives so that we can give these stories the authenticity and guidance they deserve," she says.

She hopes the industry will ultimately encourage more creative people with a disability to become involved.

"Over the last five years we have seen an incredible shift in the demand for stories that reflect the world we know exists, and more recently the world we want to see," she says.

"As an industry this has pushed us to reassess the way that diverse stories are told and represented, and we need to ensure that we push to increase this number.

"It can't only be about bringing diverse stories to life; we must also recognise the importance of creating career pathways that are cognisant of different needs and ways of learning to allow for professional development and career pathways for people living with disability."

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