On Whose Shoulders We Build: Spotlight on – Paula Greenwell

Disability Arts in the North East – A Living Archive

A tribute to all the disabled artists and groups who have made up the Disability Arts Movement past and present


About Paula

A qualified university lecturer, Paula Greenwell, was a writer, director, performer, and guest lecturer on Disability Studies Courses. She was a member of Invisible Cabaret, performed and directed for Tyneside Disability Arts and Get Off Our Backs Theatre Company. Paula was a founder member of NorDAF. She served as Chairperson of National Disability Arts Forum. Paula was involved in developing Disability Arts activity in the North East region and has been part of numerous regional and national projects – a national mentoring scheme for disabled writers, and her work was published in NorDAF News and Shelf Life. Here in her own words, shared by her, from Shelf Life (an NDAF publication edited by Kaite O’Reilly, Paula discusses perceptions of becoming disabled and notions of a ‘shelf life’ for disabled people.


A statement from Paula

“When I was diagnosed twenty-five years ago, it was said ‘Poor Paul, she loves to dance.’ And so, I did, but why did I immediately lose my ability to dance? It took twelve years before I used a wheelchair, but assumptions were always made. I could list numerous experiences and accomplishments but why should I justify myself?

I have been viewed as someone in terminal loss. So, what should I do? Wait for my death only looking at my watch or calendar?

Yes, I was a good disco dancer, but twenty-five years on I’m not bemoaning the loss of that skill. There are plenty of people who can’t dance. Me, I’ve been there, done that, got the tee shirt.

What annoys me is that I’m not allowed to get on with my life and treated as though I’m a breed apart. I won’t be the last person to get a chronic progressive illness. I’m not a tragic individual. I’m trying to ensure that in future, society does not stick us in loss and limit our choices. The progression of humanity should not be limited to a fear of dying. What limits us all is a fear of living. There never has been security. Life is transient. How stimulating is a journey on a conveyor belt to a predictable end? […] Convention and the search for security does not widen our perceptions or stir our senses.

Longevity is unimportant. The contribution one makes to life is. If I die next week or twenty years on is irrelevant. I will have contributed towards changes.

Heritage Mimosa Magazine 2009

Paula Greenwell (1953-2017) Rest In Power.

View the On Whose Shoulders We Build online exhibition