The Little Things Add Up - a Morse code drawing project about everyday ableism

TLTAU is a small Morse code-drawing project about spoonie life & everyday ableism. It turns the small unpleasantries people say to disabled and chronically ill people into art, to show how it all adds up (because it does add up to a pressing weight over time.) Using Morse code as a set of drawing rules, I transform small phrases into spirals. Periodically, I collate the spirals into collages to show how the feeling of unwelcomeness in a world designed to privilege non-disabled people grows over time. You can find out more about this project here - I’ll be updating that page with each spiral (with a translation) as it’s made.

The first 12 little things.

Image Description; a pattern of 12 spirals made of black & grey dots and dashes (representing morse code) around black charcoal-like smudges.

I’ve been experimenting with Morse code as a set of generative drawing rules for some time, wanting to use this as a way of venting things that are hard to say, or difficult to talk about. Morse code is particularly appealing to me for a project of this nature, because it can be converted into sound to make art that is accessible in both visible and auditory media. I also hope to experiment with making tactile Morse code art, using methods like laser cutting/engraving dot and dash shapes, or making raised marks with puff-paint or paste. I’ll update the project page as I go, to share how I get on. You can also read about how I use Morse code as a drawing method here.

 A single spiral - Little thing 11; I don’t like being around people in pain, I don’t want to absorb their bad vibes.   Image description; a pattern made of black & grey dots and dashes (representing morse code) around a black charcoal-like smudge. The morse coded words are “I don’t like being around people in pain, I don’t want to absorb their bad vibes.”

A single spiral - Little thing 11; I don’t like being around people in pain, I don’t want to absorb their bad vibes.

Image description; a pattern made of black & grey dots and dashes (representing morse code) around a black charcoal-like smudge. The morse coded words are “I don’t like being around people in pain, I don’t want to absorb their bad vibes.”

Some of the little things are eye-roll inducing - so many chronically ill and disabled people get told we’d magically get better if only we ate more kale/goji berries/went vegan/did yoga/tried meditating, that it’s just farcical (check out the hashtag #shitabledpeoplesay on twitter, and you’ll find many variations on that theme.) Some are highly degrading; people assuring me they’d kill themselves if they had chronic pain devalues my very existence, as if my life is not worth living. Others are more insidious… The suggestion that other people’s taxes ‘pay’ for my accessibility is often trotted out because to many people it seems reasonable to suggest accessibility places a burden on the public purse. However, ignores that 1; disabled people pay taxes like anyone else 2; a person’s worth does not depend on how much tax they pay/use in services 3; accessibility benefits everyone! People with pushchairs as well as wheelchair users find ramps helpful, many sighted people still find captions/image descriptions useful, and I sure see plenty of non-disabled people using lifts and escalators instead of the stairs.

As an example, below are the first 6 little things in this project;

  1. Do you really need that stick?

  2. Don't call yourself disabled.

  3. I'd kill myself if I was you.

  4. It can't hurt that much.

  5. You just want the attention, you're not really sick.

  6. You look too young.

And below are three spirals with the morse code played as sounds. I’m not sure how long I’ll keep this project going for, but one thing I am sure of; when it finishes, it won’t be because I’ve run out of little things to add… The well of everyday ableism never seems to run dry.