(Video link here.) When Sue Austin got a power chair 16 years ago after an extended illness, she felt a tremendous sense of freedom — yet others looked at her as though she had lost something. ‘Limitation’, ‘fear’, ‘pity’, ‘restriction’ were the words people used when they tried to imagine using a power chair.

 I was seeing myself not from my perspective, but vividly and continuously from the perspective of other people’s responses to me.

Realizing she had internalized these responses on a core level, she repurposed her wheelchair to become an object to paint and make art with, a vehicle for transformation (in which she even deep sea dived).

Freewheeling/Norman Lomax / Rex Features
Freewheeling/Norman Lomax / Rex Features


It showed that an arts practice can remake ones identity and transform preconceptions by revisioning the familiar.

This is one of the most inspiring TED talks we’ve watched in long time; the 9+ minutes will fly by, especially once you dive with Austin, in her wheelchair, starting at 3:53.

Sue Austin Deep sea dive in a wheelchair
Freewheeling/Norman Lomax / Rex Features

 I now call the underwater wheelchair “Portal,” because it’s literally pushed me through into a new way of being, into new dimensions and into a new level of consciousness.


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5 replies on “sue austin’s wheelchair: ‘re-envisioning the familiar’

  1. You have outdone yourselves! So glad you found it and brought it into my view. It made me laugh and gasp and marvel, and it made my mind fall open.

  2. Iam crying…..and not sure why exactly.
    Im terribly moved.
    Thank you miss Sally.

    maria xox

  3. This year, my 50th, I had to use a wheelchair after many years with MS. Words are insufficient to describe how invisible you are and and how degrading that feels. Sue Austin and her art redefine my worldview on this. While I am not in a wheelchair, now I will be again. But next time it is my portal.
    I am unable to find a poster or good print of her image underwater, which I would love to see each day. Any suggestions?
    Thank you for this powerful video of an amazing person.

  4. Thanks so much for your comment. Austin has broken some seriously amazing ground here. It is a reminder and inspiration for all of us, not matter what our limitations. I haven’t yet found any images for sale but have been able to print some on a color printer. There is a wonderful slide show here of Freewheeling/Norman Lomax’s images http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/paralympic-sport/9508437/Sue-Austin-performs-acrobatics-in-the-worlds-first-underwater-wheelchair.html?frame=2323752. They can be dragged to a simple photoprocessing software, possibly made bigger (depends on the resoution) and printed on good paper. It would be a start, anyway, of having the image on the wall as a reminder.

  5. I remember seeing the photo of her diving in the wheelchair but had not watched the talk. Astounding and so affirming of what we as parents of the disabled constantly work towards articulating about our children with differences.

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