The Seen but Seldom Heard project


The Seen but Seldom Heard project

By Lee Ann Fenge

The 2012 Paralympics raised the profile of disability more than any previous event, yet concerns have been expressed about how representative the images of elite Paralympic athletes are for most disabled people. The lived experiences of many disabled young people are usually linked to negative attitudes, beliefs and prejudices which constitute barriers to education, employment, health care, and social participation (WHO, 2011).

Damon Rose, discussing the legacy of the Paralympics on the BBC News website suggests that to date there has been little lasting legacy from the 2012 games. Citing a poll of 1000 disabled people by the charity Scope he suggests that 81% say that public attitudes have not improved in the last 12 months (BBC News, 29/08/13). Media representations of disability remain largely negative due to the limited number of stereotypes used and these stereotypes contribute to the ‘invisibility’ of disabled people within society.

Professor Stephen Hawking (2011: 3) in the foreword to the first World Health Organisation report of disability suggested that

‘we have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities’.

The greatest barrier in the lives of many disabled young people today is prejudice, social isolation and discrimination. It is therefore important that these young people are supported to voice their experiences and opinions in order to challenge negative perceptions.

A recent project has used performance poetry to engage with the voices of disabled young people to share their everyday experiences. The Seen but Seldom Heard project has already encouraged audiences to think critically about disability through live performances of the students work.  The joint project between Bournemouth University and Victoria Education Centre has used participatory performative research methodologies, including performance poetry to enable disabled young people (aged 14-20 years) to explore the nature of disability within society and their own experiences of being disabled. The outputs from this project have included live performances as part of the Cultural Olympiad 2012, local literary festivals, as well as a documentary film.

Audience feedback following a previous live performance of the work has identified the power of the young people’s stories and performance.

‘Very powerful – challenged my pre-conceptions. Broken down barriers mainly based on fear’.

‘Life changing! Had no idea how brave and talented these artists were. Yes it has challenged my own pre-conceptions and given me real insight into the discrimination disabled people face’.

The poetry sensations are now about to embark on another performance at the Poole Arts Centre on Sunday 3rd November 2013.

To  book your free ticket please click on the link:  via @eventbrite



Hawking, S (2011) (WHO) World Report on Disability, WHO and World Bank: Geneva, p.3.

Rose, D. (2013) What is the legacy of the Paralympic Games? Available at [accessed 30/09/13]

World Health Organisation (WHO) (2011) World Report on Disability, WHO and World Bank: Geneva