Limitless Sue Austin..!!!

Sue Austin from Devon has been using wheelchair since 1996 after an extended illness limited her mobility. Austin has staged a series of stunning underwater scuba performances called ‘Creating the Spectacle’ to show off her underwater art.

Lost in the shadows of disability after contracting a virus that attacked her central nervous system, Austin felt her identity slip away. Austin tried returning to work but was sent home because she was not well enough to be there.

Even people saw her as disabled and associated that image with words like limitation, fear, pity and restriction. She began taking art courses and with each course she felt a rebirth of passion and purpose.

One of Austin’s first series in this vein was called “traces from a wheelchair” created in 2009. For the work, Austin used paint on the wheels of her chair to create glorious loops-both on enormous sheets of paper and on the grass outside the gallery showing the exhibit.

“The wheelchair became an object to paint and play with”, explains Austin. “It was exciting to see the interested and surprised responses from people. It seemed 

to open up new perspectives.”

It was in 2010 that Austin had this crazy idea of using her wheelchair to explore underwater. With a grant from the Art Council England’s Impact Program, she began building an underwater wheelchair for the work she called “Testing the Water.”

‘Creating the Spectacle’ was a ground breaking series of live art and video. The artwork has continued to receive global attention since she used the underwater wheelchair in a series of choreographed acrobatic underwater events produced through Freewheeling as part of the London 2012 Festival during the Olympic and Paralympic games.

Through ‘Creating the Spectacle’ Sue aims to use the surprising juxtaposition of a wheelchair in an underwater environment to transform preconceptions, create positive empowering images and inspire people on a global scale. Her YouTube videos have been viewed by over half a million internet users and her work has been seen by millions, after being featured by international media, who have been inspired by her unique vision and spirit.

Sue says: “I’m thrilled that lots of people have been inspired by the project, many of them telling me how seeing the wheelchair under


















water has made them want to try it too. They’re realizing that it’s actually extending the boundaries for all of us. We’ve created something new and exciting and it’s really getting people talking. As a result they’re realizing that viewing the world from a different perspective inspires them to be free to explore new experiences. I now call my underwater wheelchair ‘portal’ because it has literally pushed me through into a new way of being.”

The idea of underwater wheelchair came to her when she was trained as a disabled driver in 2005, using fin gloves. She noticed that scuba equipment extends one’s range of activity in the world, just as a wheelchair does. However the feeling of freedom and adventure associated with scuba equipment is far from how people generally view the wheelchair. Thus she decided to put both of these together.

She was honored for being one of the 29 artists commissioned to create an artwork for the Unlimited Festival as part of the Cultural Olympiad.

She says that the wheelchair has given her the freedom to move in 360 degrees and 

offered an ecstatic experience of joy and freedom. She wishes to call it as a ‘power chair’ rather than a wheelchair since it gives power to her. ‘It is the most amazing experience beyond all the experiences I had until now’, this is how she describes her underwater experience.

She says that when people watched her diving underwater they are actually seeing the value of difference, they are thinking if she could do this, then why not us?? “Instead of focusing on our loss or limitations, we see and discover joy and freedom of seeing the world from exciting perspective. For me wheelchair was the vehicle of transformation” She says.

In searching for an image that has the power to reshape preconceptions about the wheelchair, she discovered an object that has the power to change her. For her, it is more like flying than diving and brings the most amazing sense of freedom.

Austin continues her underwater adventures. What’s next?  With Sue Austin, if she can perceive it, she can be it!!





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