Disability Rights and Talking Mimes

Stefan Rochfort
3 min readMar 6, 2020


This is in an excerpt from Talking Mimes Talks to Idealog, which is the raw interview for the Idealog article White-Mirror-Episode-Two-Mindedness.

2. What’s the biggest problem you’re trying to solve with Talking Mimes?

The disability rights movement is one of the most fragmented and overlooked of the civil rights movements. Even in these comparatively woke times, disability is almost always the last item on diversity check-lists, if it’s there at all, resulting in groups and workplaces that are at best “diverse-ISH”. It is changing, e.g. the social model of disability (see Talking Mimes Practical Tips for an Inclusive World) is now the internationally recognised way to view and address ‘disability’ — the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) speaks to an official paradigm shift. But the implementation, real change, is hopelessly slow and so very long overdue.

You’ve probably already seen this on the website, but it’s a solid précis for Talking Mimes: “To start a practical conversation around safety and respect. To actively reject the soft bigotry of low expectations. To peel back the layers of alienation and teach us how to be less accidentally condescending arseholes, and more on-purpose good humans.”

I don’t think many people set out to be patronising and step on other people’s dignity, it usually comes out of fear and ignorance. Or more accurately — a lack of education. I shudder when I think of times I’ve talked down to people in the past, and the power differentials I’ve benefited from without thinking. So, educating out fear and ignorance is a large part of what we’re trying to do.

The face of a condescending talking mime surrounded by colours

Really, though, we’re trying to solve a few problems at once with Talking Mimes. Sorry, I feel like I’m going to fail to narrow things down effectively for you here — it’s hard not to get lost in the details when the details are all so important. To be blandly broad: I/we want to transform attitudes and behaviour towards people with access needs. To help tackle the interpersonal and ultimately systemic issues that make up the largely invisible oppression of people with disabilities.

To get some of the details out of the way, here’s a non-exhaustive list of issues we try to cover with practical and emotional education in the experience and workshops: Accessibility (including the social, micro and macro-economic cost of failing to consider and implement it), power differentials, victimising language, disability representation in the media, inspiration porn, safety, dignity, privacy, respect, independence, the power of getting a voice (literally a physical voice, for people who are non-verbal), disability confidence (to enable and encourage positive interactions that might otherwise be avoided out of fear), the unnecessary financial and emotional pressures on caregivers and family due to systemic/policy failures, lack of support and consistent information, the many myths and biases around disability…

Where Talking Mimes is most practically and effectively problem solving right now is in training people who work with and around people who have disabilities. It was astonishing to get the impassioned feedback we got when we premiered the experience at an international assistive technology conference: People were so emphatic about wanting it for their hospitals, schools, assistive tech and OT/SLP training businesses, respite care facilities, NGOs, family and friends…

Prior to researching for the project I had this assumption that people in the helping professions, and families of people with access needs, already had all the insights I was gathering. Turns out even seasoned professionals get empathic intel and genuine practical value from the experience.

One piece of heart-lifting feedback came from a woman in the US who’s been the primary caregiver for her daughter, who has locked-in syndrome, for over 20 years. She contacted me weeks after having gone through Talking Mimes to let us know it had helped her make a difficult decision in advocating for her daughter. She’s since bought an Oculus Go to run the experience and evangelize the workshop herself. It’s awesome when Talking Mimes gets deployed in institutions and businesses, but there’s something extra cry-your-face-off beautiful when it’s a family.