Red Nicholson (wheelchair-user), Beth Awatere, Olivia Shivas (wheelchair-user) and Tania Bissett (wheelchair-user) smile towards with camera and post against a black background. Credit: Curative
Red Nicholson, Beth Awatere, Olivia Shivas and Tania Bissett of The D*List. (Photo: Curative)

MediaJuly 3, 2023

An invite to the D*List, the new home of disability culture in Aotearoa

Red Nicholson (wheelchair-user), Beth Awatere, Olivia Shivas (wheelchair-user) and Tania Bissett (wheelchair-user) smile towards with camera and post against a black background. Credit: Curative
Red Nicholson, Beth Awatere, Olivia Shivas and Tania Bissett of The D*List. (Photo: Curative)

The D*List is a new online magazine dedicated to disability stories, and disabled kinship and joy. Executive director Red Nicholson tells the story so far.

On a warm February day in 2021, a group of people sat together and asked a question.

What the hell do we do about ableism?

Ableism, a phenomenon well understood by disabled people but often invisible to everyone else, is a set of attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that diminish our agency, mana and ability to live the lives we choose.

So on that day, Te Kāhui Tika Tangata: The NZ Human Rights Commission and creative agency Curative held ableism up to the light. The history of the disability rights movement in Aotearoa is long and proud. Many giants of the movement have lit the way before us – the constellation of whetū in our communities who have guided the way. Inspired by them, we began our mahi.

The first thing we needed to do was listen.

Throughout 2021, we held hui, talanoa and workshops to better understand the attitudes that exist towards disabled people and tāngata whaikaha in Aotearoa. We called this Project Mobilise. We listened to more than 200 people: Deaf, disabled and nondisabled whānau. Māori. Pasifika. Youth. Queer.

Across all these conversations, we basked in that unique magic that happens when disabled people spend time together; when relatable experiences are shared and other people know exactly how we feel. We’re not strange when we’re together.

We gathered everything we learnt from our time together and took a look at it: media narratives that consistently fell into well-worn tropes of tragedy and triumph; the conflation of disability with deficit; countless experiences of moving through the world being misjudged or misunderstood.

We were also reminded that for many of us, when it comes to making sense of our own disability identity and community, everyone has their own journey.

Most importantly, through Project Mobilise, we rediscovered the potency of our communities when we connect with each other.

So we asked ourselves, what will cut through generations of colonial, capitalist narratives and conditioning about disability? What could our movement look like?

It suddenly became clear that we couldn’t create yet another thing for nondisabled people. It was time we created something for us.

We want to create a space that mirrors our own ways of connecting with each other – the furtive conversations between us as we navigate ableist spaces. The belly laughs over relatable – and sometimes deeply painful – shared experiences.

We want to invite disabled people to participate unapologetically in shared experiences that affirm, uplift and understand them, and we want to create a home for joyous, incisive, and sometimes boring disability stories. Freed from the burden of being remarkable. A place where we can be authentically, raucously ourselves.

The D*List is an online culture magazine on a mission to transform attitudes to disability in Aotearoa. Eventually, we’ll move into events and activations, but for now, we’re starting with stories. Unapologetic, energising, incendiary stories told by disabled people – for disabled people.

We reject the idea that disabled people must diminish, minimise, contort ourselves to make others more comfortable. That our existence is somehow an inconvenience. We invite you to be part of a new space – and new conversations – that embolden, amplify and elevate our people, and our communities.

A few things we feel strongly about:

  • Leave your mobility card behind. We won’t inquire about your impairment, or ask for evidence of diagnosis. We’re not here to police the space: if you vibe with us, you’re welcome here. There is no such thing as disabled enough.
  • Multiple perspectives are encouraged. We all know that there is no singular experience of disability, and that no one person can ever presume to speak for our collections of communities. We welcome a plurality of voices, experiences, language, and perspectives.
  • Disabled Māori are Māori. The modern framing of disability is the result of a colonial, capitalist shitshow that diminishes people’s mana based on their perceived productivity. Decolonising and reindigenising disability spaces is a critical journey for all Pākehā and tauiwi, and The D*List is committed to creating an environment where Māori can be unapologetically both Māori and disabled.
  • We won’t always get it right. And that’s okay. Our work is deeply rooted in deconstruction – of narratives, identities, beliefs, attitudes – and the reimagination of those things. That’s messy, crunchy work, and at times we’ll push things too far. Or not far enough. All we ask is that you let us know – and work with us to build something even better.
  • We refuse to become part of the problem. The D*List is an agitator, a disruptor. The moment we become complicit in the systems, mindsets and financial incentives that we so strongly advocate against, will be the moment we cease to become relevant. We must continue to push for better, and we’ll know we’re successful when we’re no longer needed.

This is an invitation to you to join us on this journey. Disabled people: create with us. Build with us. Challenge norms with us. And non-disabled people: Listen to us. Engage with us. Agitate with us. This work requires everyone to play their part, as we build towards an Aotearoa that no longer tolerates ableism.

Our name – The D*List – contains a tohuwhetū.

In te ao Māori, stars were observed as important indicators of time, navigation, and change. The D*List tohuwhetū serves the same purpose. It is a sign of transformation and a waypoint to a different world, one that emboldens our people.

In reo Pākehā, the tohu of the asterisk suggests that something is conditional on a footnote or disclaimer. The D*List subverts this, reclaiming the footnote, shifting it to represent a position of power and a community made of many parts who are stronger together.

The D*List is a place for us to bask in disabled kinship, disabled joy. A place to remind us all that simply existing as a disabled person in an ableist world demands a level of radical self-acceptance.

We created this space for you. You are welcome here. Every part of you. The parts that can sometimes feel too disabled. The parts that might not feel disabled enough. We ask nothing of you other than to simply exist as your full and unapologetic self.

Nau mai, haere mai. Join us on The D*List.

Keep going!