Olivia Muscut: Expanding Disability Representation Beyond Having To Always Tell My Personal Story
Olivia Muscut is a talented and passionate writer, performer, and disability activist. This week Olivia discusses her journey, challenges in the arts industry, and her commitment to broadening disability representation beyond personal narratives.
Discover the complexities of navigating the arts with a disability, the power of impactful storytelling, and Olivia's vision for a future where disabled voices thrive without the constant need for justification.
Connect with Olivia:
Connect with Peta:
Peta [00:00:03] Hello and welcome to the I Can't Stand podcast. The podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta. I have cerebral palsy and I'm your host this week. I have the amazing Olivia mascot. She's a performer, writer, disability activist, and also is totally blind. Her words, not mine. So without any further ado, let's hand over to Olivia.
Olivia [00:00:43] Hi, my name is Olivia Muscut. I am a totally blind writer. Critic, artist, performer, educator, Access consultant. That I am a disabled person who is very passionate about advocating for disability arts and disabled artists. And yeah, that sums it up. I feel like there's a lot more to say, but that kind of sums it up.
Peta [00:01:12] Disability in the arts and the representation of disability in the arts needs to be more thought of by society and quite frankly represented. So people realise that disabled people are present within the system. Is that sort of work, the work that you're most proud of? Which work are you most proud of?
Olivia [00:01:35] That's an interesting question, and I'm not sure if I ever heard it phrased that way, like, what am I most proud of? But honestly, every time I finish something, I'm proud. So whether it's an essay or a performance pace or just as something that's finished, I'm proud. I mean, I'm proud of things that, you know, have had to be put aside for the time being. But I think I'm most proud when someone comes along and says, Oh, I read, I read your work or I watched you do something, or I heard you speak, and it made me think about something in a different way, or it resonated with me as someone who's had similar experiences. I'm proud when I teach a student who, you know, who is blind. Something like some random trick that I've used in my life, and they come back to me another time and say, Oh, I use this, and it works for me. So like, it can be tiny things like that. But in terms of my activism work, I think, yeah, just having people say I really appreciated what you wrote or what you said and people have quoted me and stuff and I think, Oh, my goal.
Peta [00:02:52] Being quoted by someone is just so cool. And don't get me wrong, it's hardly happened to me at all. But when people do message me and say, Hey Peter, thank you so much for that episode or the person you interviewed was so great, thank you for sharing this story. It just gives you that tingly feeling that you're just like, Yes, I'm doing the right thing. On the basis of that, I'd love to hear whether the arts has always been the thing for you. Have you always been drawn to the arts?
Olivia [00:03:23] Uh, yeah. I've just always loved anything arty music before me, Woody. That's just the aspect of life I've always been drawn to. The arts. I just could never, never let them go. I'll never not think that that was what I wanted to do with my life. So, I mean, and it's been like quite a journey to, like, get a career in the arts, I suppose. But in terms of what sparked my interest in it, it's just always been there. I can't pinpoint the particular thing because I just love that whole whole world of words and performing and creating. And it's the thing in life that still brings me a buzz and a joy. Like really nothing else.
Peta [00:04:17] You're right. I mean, I'm not in the arts, but I think there is a very strong perception in society that it is hard to get consistent employment in that industry. And when you look at it from the other angle, from the disability lens, having a disability can make things really hard to get a job anyway. So I can't imagine how hard it is from both aspects, from the arts and having a disability. What's that process been like for you?
Olivia [00:04:47] Yeah. No, it is extremely difficult. And like the percentage of disabled people that that work in the arts or are involved in the arts is quite massive. But the process, I think I mean it's a lot of hard work and it's a lot of working through rejection and it's a lot of overcoming your own barriers or solving other people's problems with you as in problems that other people have with me. But for some reason it's my problem to solve it. I don't I never like to use the word luck because that implies that there hasn't been an element of difficulty and hard work to it. But there is also an element of good timing sometimes, you know, being in the right place at the right time or randomly having a conversation with the right person, but then in that moment, having the confidence to, you know, get in touch with the right people or follow up with someone about some random discussion you had about, you know, a piece of writing or a workshop or, you know, whatever it is, theatre stuff. So it's not easy. And look, I said, I'm perfectly honest with you. I'm having one of those years where it kind of feels impossible. Having a career in the arts, whether you're a disabled person or not. Involves a lot of. Making stuff for the love of it and not always, you know, getting the money. So if your definition of career is I must make money from this thing, it's not always going to work out that way. I couldn't give you a career trajectory for me. Like in a straight path like this happened. This happened, this happened. And therefore, I have a career in the arts. I just kind of keep creating things, keep working on things. And then, you know, when a grant or prize or publication opportunities come up, I've got things that I can use or submit. And then, you know, some things lead to other things and some things lead to absolutely nothing. But that's okay. And I think that's the thing you have to be okay with. Am I always okay with that? Am I like, do I practice what I preach? Absolutely not. Sometimes it's just hard.
Peta [00:07:21] Being a freelancer, I can relate somewhat to what you're saying. Like, I quite like the fact I don't know what's coming next, but at the same time, you have to be really self motivated to keep going and I'm really intrigued to hear what keeps you motivated. Olivia What are the stories that you're still really keen to share with the public?
Olivia [00:07:44] My goal is to create fun things or things that make people feel or things that make people laugh or think, whether that's about, you know, disability or not. But my sub goal and just because of who I am and what I've experienced and what I've seen is to increase, you know, disability representation. And that could be in theatre, that could be in film, that could be in children's literature. So and I don't think that means I need to tell stories about being disabled or what it's like to be disabled all of the time. I think disability. Disability representation means having things created by disabled creators or performed by disabled performers, dignified portrayal of disabled people, whether it's, you know, a story that directly relates to being disabled or not. I did a Q&A for a bunch of aspiring writers a few months ago now, and they asked how I deal with the responsibility of like having to tell disabled stories and how they should deal with it. I said, That's your responsibility is to your art, and that's what I think about myself, and that inspires me to keep going when my responsibility is to my art. I have no other responsibility than that just because I'm from a marginalised background. Whatever I do will represent that. I don't have to create a story about a blind character all the time because kind of that actually even gets boring for me. But by virtue of the fact that I've created it, it's representation. And everything that I create or anything that anyone creates is is valid. I am enhancing and broadening and enriching disability representation in the arts. That also inspires me, even though I might rail against it. Sometimes I it does. It does, you know, encourage me to keep going.
Peta [00:10:06] I completely agree with you. Very well said. Have you found that you have experienced a pressure or an expectation by the industry to fulfil that quote unquote disabled need or to share your story? That's just on the basis of your disability. What's your experience been in and around that issue?
Olivia [00:10:30] I've definitely felt it. I definitely often feel it. There have been moments in my life where I think, Wow, people are only interested in what I'm doing. If it directly relates to disability, whether that's true or not, I don't know. I couldn't tell you. Maybe it's my imposter syndrome. But there are definitely times where I absolutely feel that way. And I've got to say, it's not not the best feeling because I don't want to stop. You know, talking about being disabled, that's not what I'm asking. But, you know, sometimes I want to do something else.
Peta [00:11:12] You're clearly such a talented person, Olivia. And when I was thinking of the sort of questions that I wanted to ask you, a really random thought came to my head. So you'll just have to stay with me for a moment. In high school, we were tasked with creating our own magazine, and the front cover was the most pressing issue that we wanted people to know about us. So to allow us to speak on. I would love to hear if you were asked the same question, what would your magazine cover say?
Olivia [00:11:46] My magazine would be about, like, probably like make up and fashion or TV.
Peta [00:11:54] I love that because you've actually pre-empted my next question. I did want to ask you about your fashion sense and how you buy clothes, because like me, you love clothes, and that's very clear in what you wear as somebody with your disability who is blind. How do you go about buying the right things for you? Do you stick to the Internet or do you go to bricks and mortar stores? What's your process?
Olivia [00:12:23] I definitely shop a lot online because being, you know, a plus size person, there aren't actually that many options for me to go into bricks and mortar stores, which is a whole other thing to go in. So I do a lot of online shopping and sometimes that goes really well and sometimes it goes terribly because a lot of places actually don't describe anything very well. I know what I like and I know what suits me. And when I say suits me, I don't necessarily mean what flat is my body, but like, what suits my personality and what I want to convey. I asked, cited people for their input about like, okay, so this says it's a citrus print, but like, what colour's the background and what citrus does it have on it? And what's the style of drawing like in print? So, you know, the lot of like, you know, support in that way comes into it, but often I'll just take a risk. Yeah. I'm trying not to buy so many coins actually, at the moment and use what I have, but there's nothing that brings me like as much joy as I said, creativity before and I guess is part of my creativity is I just love to put outfits together.
Peta [00:13:43] That answer actually really surprises me, and this probably highlights my naivety. Olivia But I would have thought that the way fabric felt and the type of fabric that clothes were made out of would have been really important to, you.
Olivia [00:13:59] Know, actually, I, I'm not that fussed about fabrics like if, if fabrics nice. Of course I appreciate that. But yeah, it's more about the outward appearance of the clothes for me than the fabric. Like, Yeah, yeah. I love a nice fabric. I love a fun texture, but it's not a it's not a make or break for me, I don't think.
Peta [00:14:24] Talk to me about your bond that you have with your guide dog. I understand that you weren't really an animal person originally. Has that changed now that you have a guide dog?
Olivia [00:14:38] No, I'm not an animal person. I don't think I'll ever be an animal person. I can appreciate appreciate a cute dog video or a funny cat video as much as the next person if it's described. Obviously. And I love my guide dog more than life itself. Jim is a special, special exception because. I mean, how could I not love her and trust her? And we had a rocky start together, she and I. But I wouldn't wouldn't give her up for anything.
Peta [00:15:18] So we nervous when you first decided that you were going to get a guide dog. What was that process like for you?
Olivia [00:15:26] I was you moment to. And I was that nervous. Nervous doesn't even cover. All through high school, even after people would be like, Gosh, you're so lucky you can get a guide dog. I'm like, Yes, all this discrimination is worth it. I made the decision that it was the right mobility choice for me. I didn't make the decision of I want a dog and what a perfect excuse, which I'm not saying that, you know, everyone else does that. I know that that's a common misconception amongst a good chunk of people, and I do not regret it one bit. But, you know, I really genuinely at the beginning and even like, you know, I was waiting I was on the waiting list for Guide Dog for a year or so after I even made the decision. So that entire year I was just nervous. And when I, you know, I, I was told I'd been matched with a dog. I was terrified and oh my gosh, I've made the wrong decision and what have I done? And this is going to be so hard. And it was hard. But it was completely, absolutely worth it from a mobility standpoint. From my, you know, my memories, adorable standpoint, but that's just a happy bonus.
Peta [00:16:50] And were you nervous because of the knowledge of how readily service animals are directly discriminated against and their owners? Or was it deeper than that? Were you concerned that you were going to have to rely on something that wasn't you, that enabled you to access the environment?
Olivia [00:17:11] It was definitely the commitment things, the the discrimination aspect of it just didn't even enter into my head. Like, I mean, I was aware of it obviously, but that that wasn't the reason for the nerves. I mean, I've, I've had my fair share of weird discrimination before that, so that wasn't going to be anything new. Yeah, it's certainly different with a dog and there is much more. Sort of direct denials of things and discrimination in that way. But yeah, no, it was just, you know, when you've got a hanging, you can get home, fold it up at the end of the day, ignore it until you need to go out again. And look, I didn't really grow up with pets except chickens, so I really didn't know what I was getting into and massive commitment. And it is a massive commitment. You're looking after this living thing that needs, you know, care and attention and it follows you around at dinner time. So, yeah, I was nervous about all that stuff. And, you know, like I said, the first few weeks of it were really tricky. It was a very, very steep learning curve, but. I think I got over it pretty quickly. I feel like my family has a different view of how long it took me to get you get used to having a dog around, but like within the first week or two, I was like, Okay, this is so different to using, you know, a cane from a mobility standpoint. And it's really nice to have a little dog around.
Peta [00:18:51] Well, I'm really glad it worked out for you. Actually, in retrospect, I'm glad it worked out For both of you. For you and Jemima. When I talk on these podcasts about access, which I do all the time, listeners will know. We often talk about access in relation to mobility, aids, people with walking sticks, wheelchairs, that sort of thing. And I feel like non-disabled people have a pretty good grasp of the basics of good access for people who need things like ramps and things like that. But I would love to hear from your perspective of what you think good access is.
Olivia [00:19:33] So I'm less interested in access needs as a whole for all those, you know, blind and visually impaired people everywhere. And I'm more interested in people starting to view access needs as one of those basic first questions you ask anybody, whether you think they're disabled or not. And then when those access needs are presented to you, just listening and acting upon them in, you know, to meet to reasonably meet what the person is asking of you. I've had people who try and, oh, you know, we won't be able to get this in and Braille for you, blah, blah, blah. And like I do read Braille and I do use Braille when I feel it's appropriate. But if you just want to send me some notes from a meeting, you can email them to me. And if I say to someone, you can email me. Instead of just saying, Oh, sure, no worries. What's your email? They will often say, Oh, can you write email? Are you sure? Can you? If I send you an email, you'll be able to read it. And that just starts this whole other annoying dialogue. So my ideal yeah, my access needs are ask me what my access needs are. And when I tell you what they are. Listen and meet them as reasonably and easily as possible. And if I give feedback, take that feedback on board and don't get defensive because my access needs changed contextually as well. Like I can always see the same amount, which is nothing that doesn't change. But my access needs will depend on the context of what I'm doing.
Peta [00:21:19] It's certainly not too much to ask. Just be polite, open minded, and don't be dickhead. Really?
Olivia [00:21:29] Ah, yes. The age old directive. Don't be a dickhead.
Peta [00:21:35] My final question. What do you hope for the future for people with disabilities?
Olivia [00:21:42] Yes, I hope that barriers get smashed down. And, you know, through the social model of disability, we can begin to remove a lot of those access barriers and those barriers of discrimination and those societal attitudes to disabled people. And I do hope all of that and all of that to me goes without saying like that is just that I don't even need to say it because of course I hope all of those things, but I also hope that. Disabled people and disabled voices are allowed to thrive and exist and fail and succeed without the constant need to justify why. And without the constant need to mine our own experience and our own trauma and our own lives for content or for, you know, justification to exist or to create. My hope for the future of disabled people is that we just get to be and have fun and make the stuff we want to make and do the stuff we want to do without people telling us no. Oh, okay. But only if you do it this way.
Peta [00:23:13] Thank you for listening to this week's episode with Olivia Mascut. I hope you enjoyed it if you did. Can you please share the episode with a friend? It really helps more people find the podcast and for the podcast to grow. As always, if you want to send me an email, my email address is email@example.com and my Instagram is at @petahookeThanks so much for listening. And until next time. Have a good one, guys. Buying. I'd like to pay my respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, but especially to the Bunurong people where this podcast was recorded.