Artist with OI: Kristian Keogh
Kristian is an Australian professional video editor and graphic designer. He is using a wheelchair, but this didn’t stop him from making a dream come true: performing with the Bangalow Theatre Company doing the Musical “RENT”, his favorite musical. Kristian also talks for instance about daily challenges and the situation of people with a disability in Australia.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi my name is Kristian Keogh. I live in Lismore, New South Wales, Australia. I have a Bachelor’s in Media, specifically screen media. I am a professional video editor and graphic designer. My hobbies include and are not limited to playing power wheelchair tennis, swimming, music (Jazz Singer, Piano), content creation, streaming on YouTube and Twitch, video games and more.
How does OI affect your daily life?
OI affects your life on the regular, broken or not. Thankfully I have the most incredible supports that have helped me during the tough times and times when a wheelchair cannot access things that I want to be involved in. Nothing is truly off limits, and I think any OI person’s main strength is to find another way to do the things you want to do.
You are living with a cat. What are the challenges? For instance, I can imagine that especially a cat’s tail is extremely threatened by the wheels of your wheelchair…
My cat Mercy is almost 5 years old now, and I am planning on getting another little kitten very, very soon. The main challenges in the beginning were of course with Mercy when she came home with me as a tiny 7-week-old kitten in 2017. Like, “how was I going to feed her from the floor?” So, I got a small table to be a raised feeding spot for her, among other solutions. It’s funny you mention the tail because nowadays she trusts me so much, she likes to do trust exercises with me where her tail is millimeters away from my tires. She’s so used to wheelchairs, she gets trodden on by able bodied people all the time, almost daily!
Can you describe a little where and how you live?
I live in an accessible unit/house in a complex of other houses. Everything in the house was modified to help me live as independent as possible. My house is two bedrooms. My second bedroom is a studio for my video recording and music stuff and is incredibly nerdy. Town is a quick 5-minute drive away. Sadly, there is no safe non-car way for me to travel into the town itself, but the CBD is reasonably fine to just go around in a power chair. At the current moment I do not have my own vehicle as it is getting modified. But once I get it, I will be able to do a lot of things on my own.
How is the situation of people with a disability in Australia?
This is a tricky one! Where I live is rural town, accessible public transport is only attainable and 100% safe via wheelchair accessible maxi taxis, of which there are about 5 of them for the entire town area. But in major capital cities like Sydney, accessible public transport includes, trains, light rail (trams), buses and taxis and they are in abundance with plenty of new stations and stops being made accessible. Access to medicine is pretty good in public system but with OI, it can be a challenge to get the right surgeon and care so I always recommend getting private health insurance to help with you getting the best you can for yourself, and you miss the long waitlists of the public system. Of course, only do that if you can afford to do so. Most Aussie doctors in the public system will do their best to put you onto the right people regardless, but that can mean travelling fair distances as not all hospitals are equipped for OI and just for regular patient issues.
Australia is a huge country. What difference does it make for people with a disability if you are living in a city or in the outback? Are you well connected?
In major cities help is far more plentiful, but they are expensive to live in. Lots of places in the city as far as I have seen, are also not the most wheelchair friendly either or that accessible. As you move further from cities, help can be a bit harder to gain and requires more research. However, thanks to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), help is never too far away or hard to find. Basically, the more remote you are, there will be different challenges and hassles. The NDIS allows people with disabilities to live as independently as they can. It’s a body of funding that pays support workers, assistive equipment like wheelchairs etc. Participants on the scheme, like myself, can then access their community and do a lot more things than before the scheme. As a 26-year-old person, it can sometimes be a cramp in style and a dilemma to bring your Mum or Dad out of their work or own plans to have them attend something you are interested in and they’re not. So, having the NDIS pay support workers who are keen to support you and the things you want to do is a major plus.
In a video you give the following statement: “To most people with any disability it’s hard to find a work that will adapt to you.” Can you explain this?
Finding the right place to work can be extremely tricky. It really depends on what you want to do for work and how willing the company and/or employers are willing to adapt their workspace to accommodate you. I think during and post COVID, this adaptation expands to the work from home. Technology and the internet make finding a home job even easier to the point where I hope other people with disabilities look at what they can do in their home. You’re no longer bound by country or location! It’s awesome!
You recently performed with the Bangalow Theatre Company doing the Musical “RENT”. Tell us about it!
RENT is absolutely my favorite musical of all time. Followed closely by Matilda and Lion King. RENT tells the story of a group of young, impoverished artists living in lower New York City at the turn of the millennium and the AIDS epidemic. It isn’t your typical musical as it is very much rock orientated and very 90s. It deals with HIV/AIDS, LGBT and many more issues that nowadays are more commonplace and widely accepted. Back in the 90s the ideas of gay marriage were still a fiction. It started with my mum tagging me in a comment of a post the Bangalow Theatre Company (BTC) posted on their Facebook page that was advertising auditions for RENT in 2019. I was initially a bit hesitant to audition because I was unsure of the wheelchair access of venue. After talking to the BTC organisers they showed me photos of the venue. It was accessible, including the stage! So, I immediately went for audition. I found out a few weeks later I was in the ensemble cast. And I was ecstatic to do something I thought I’d never do in my life, perform in my favorite musical.
Were there any challenges regarding this project?
We started rehearsing in January 2020 but then COVID hit so all of us in the company were not sure if we could perform. Some of us pulled out but I decided to wait for 2021 to see if it would go ahead. Rehearsals restarted early 2021 and we had a 2-week season performing the show in June. The scale of the entire production was immense. The directors and the set designers worked closely with me to ensure the set was workable for a wheelchair and even the choreography of dance was chair adapted which BTC had never done before.
What was the most positive experience during this project?
Honestly, how willing and supporting everyone was not just of me being a cast member with a disability, but it was the first time since 2013 that I had acted in theatre, and I was welcomed as a part of the BTC and RENT family. All the cast and crew were. I am truly thankful and honored they welcomed me in to be a part of their production and I cannot wait to do more with them again. Check out this video for a small glimpse: