Nobody could have be drunk by description of water

Interview with representatives of the Foundation for Culture Without Barriers: Anna Żórawska and Robert Więckowski.

logo - Fundacja Kultura Bez BarierThe Foundation is leading actions which aim is creation of conditions ensuring people with sight and hearing disabilities comfort during a visit to the cinema, theater, museum and gallery. These are the conditions which are making an independent and competent reception of art.

How the Foundation was started- where from came the idea?

Anna: The project was found in 2007 when I read the article “Hear what is invisible”. He talked about the fact that in Bialystok was the first screening of the film with audio description. It was interesting to me and I started to met people from the Cinema “Peace” in Bialystok, who did this and so from contact to contact, I started taking similar activities. Many people have wondered why am I doing this, what is for cinema for blind?

Then we got the first grant from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. We did the show, it was the film “Louise’s Garden” at the Cinema Muranow. I expected that for the show will come young people and middle-aged, and on the spot it was found that the mean age was 50+ and not enough places! Then I realized that it makes sense. Then there were new projects and Robert (ed. Więckowski) joined us, and then we have accelerated. We decided to set up a Foundation whose aim will be making culture accessible. Thanks to the President of the Foundation for Children “Help on Time”, Stanislaw Kowalski, this dream could come true.

What kind of specialists you’re working with within your action? In which areas?

Robert: We are training in audio description and in services for viewer with a disability, because it is very important. But above all, we show who it really is the person with a disability. What kind of obstacles he will meet, and what challenges will meet the team of cultural institutions, for what they have to be prepared? How to approach person with disability, what questions are ok to ask and what are not ok? How to start a meeting, what you should know and what you can ask, but about what you shouldn’t ask? How to help? Overcome the natural fear among non-disabled and disabled people – so that the communication can be clear.

No matter how much money we have, or architectural accessibility as driveways, that we can manage to build, how much will the headphones supplied in the institutions. Everything can be done, if people want it. This is not secret knowledge. There is a Chinese proverb that captures this well: nobody could have drunken of waters description. You can read all about water, but unless you drink water, you do not know everything.

Audio description. Not everyone has the ease of writing, is able to use words, but anyone can try. We learn also how to adapt cultural texts to the needs of the deaf people. It is also not secret knowledge, but you have to know how to do it. These are the basics that you need to possess, and then practice, practice.

Anna: We train educators, museum professionals, people from the first line in customer services, who should be ready to work with people with disabilities. Additionaly, we try to inspire some groups to create activities for people with disabilities, using what they already have. This way did ZACHĘTA Gallery, they got from us only suggestions. We also care about breaking down the barriers in people themselves and also to be an ambassador in overcoming barriers to their institution.

What standards do you apply in your training offer?

Anna: We conduct trainings on topics which we feel competent in. I do not pretend to know everything. Often we receive questions from people interested in a workshop on the needs of people with intellectual disabilities. I honestly admit that this topic is beyond our competence and we direct this people to organizations which are competent in this area.

Robert: Above all, we teach by experience. We don’t say much how something looks like. We offer exercise. Most of all, however, we want people, after the exercise, to talk about what they felt in this experience, did it convince them to something? Our assumption is that the participants founds their natural reflex, and when they see a blind person, or a person moving in a wheelchair, they knew how to behave. These people come to the conclusions to which we went, learning from experiences from various projects.

We don’t give certificates. We learn throughout our lives, and for this we want to raise awareness those who come to us. If someone really wants to learn something, must be present at the workshop. At the same time you have to give yourself a chance to make mistakes. Sometimes that what we think, turns out that perhaps is not real. What is also needed is awareness on how to fix this mistake. We operate in the area of interpersonal skills. It is difficult to argue with the facts. Everone should teach themself humility, acceptance and boundaries of people with disabilities.

Anna: Often we also have some concerns. For example, we were not entirely convinced to join a group of blind and deaf people in one workshop, and it turnes out that it worked well and that the participants were very active and initiative. And it also is important to us – openness to combining different groups, not creating ghettos.

Robert: Our workshops last usually three days. I do not think we agree on this, to shorten them. You can not explore this knowledge in less time.

What would you like to pass on trainers/educators? Do you have any advice for them?

Robert: Knowledge. You need to think about what is true about the disability and what is just a stereotype transmitted by the opinions of others.

Anna: Experience the situation similar to living with a disability, immersion in this situation.

Robert: You need to know also how. So to know the solutions that enable people with disabilities access to the arts and to knowledge. Look for good practices. Another sphere are interpersonal skills. Do not allow everything a person with a disability. We shouldn’t treat people with disabilities leniently. And often we are willing to. Hence the stereotype of the claim-disabled person came to being. It is worth to think about the frequency of our behavior when we allow the behaviors that exacerbate this demanding attitude.

If you work with blind and organize each meeting in a different location, it is not surprising that at the last meeting, no one will come. If you do not ensure help to move (or in this case the location constancy of meetings), which is the most difficult thing for a blind person.

Anna: These are the keys to this for common work to succeed. Blind people rather are not spontaneous. You need to give them time to be familiar with everything, you can prepare the content of the invitation for some event was exhaustive. People with disabilities must organize, access, perhaps help in getting to the event.

What else you should pay attention to, while working with blind or visually impaired people?

Robert: Speaking about the colors. You always have to talk about the colors, even if the blind person does not know them, they never saw it, but lives in a world of colors and if the person will not be able to call them, what color are leaves on a tree, the sky, it will be socially incompetent person. It must be learned. Of course, the colors are falling out the life of a blind person, such as foreign languages, which are not used. But you have to talk about it. The blind see six colors.

Anna: What is important in this aspect, is the time, we need much time. We should also pay attention to the amount of things that we want to pass, it can not be too many of them. For example, one exploring the museum lasts one hour and the half, we see three objects and then we’re talking about them. It works and then people are coming back. We should also shun the desire of making people with disabilities happy during training or workshops. We treat them like any other person, and that’s what we pay attention to, facilitating their access to content.

Does in group of specialists with whom you cooperate are people blind?

Robert: No, unfortunately. It is a pity, but in the culture in general, works not many blind people.

What is the “know-how” transferred to organizations / institutions in the area of visual dysfunction?

Robert: We know how to do audio description, we know how to make the picture, sculpture accessible. We advise what to do when the audio description is not possible. We do audits of the organizations in cooperation with experts of universal design. We advise on Brille, and if Braille, how many of Braille? We provide contacts to audiodescriptors, to people who can do typhlografics. We share our know-how. This knowledge must be spread.

Anna: Added to this is the knowledge of culture, which enhances the quality of our actions. We assist in the preparation of the whole process of making art more accessible, from the preparation of materials to the blind people to the moment they leave the theater or a museum. That’s what we pay special attention to the presenter, who is reading audio description. Must be a professional voice actor. On this it can not be saved.

Robert: Also advise how to bypass solutions that require large financial outlays. Not always there are money for everything and the audio description is worth to do, despite the lack of resources. It also turns out that everyone at their own expense may even make typhlografics, provided that the person wants to spend their time and energy to think about it.

What is for you the challenge for the future?

Robert: We measure the world in dreams. It definitely is such that every product of culture that arises, was immediately prepared in the version available for everyone.

Anna: To the planning and design of budgets exhibitions, films, performances, were entered costs associated to making these events accessible to people with diffrent disabilities. To the representatives of these institutions do not give up if you need to make cuts. And often we hear that this is happening. Besides, we also wish to have a cultural place, which will be 100% accessible to all.

What are you proud of, what you want to share with other organizations?

Robert: Products, what succeeded in ZACHĘTA, with films which failed to include audio description. We look forward to the next meeting where the hall is filled to the brim.

Anna: Once every movie that was bind up audiodescription was an event, for which we got thanks. Today, our audience come and is critical, discussing what is liked, which is not, what we should improve. They give us the spur to develop it.

Robert: We are pleased with the Warsaw Cultural Week Without Barriers (Warszawski Tydzień Kultury Bez Barier). Event conceived spontaneously, and now we will make the next step. Frequently occurring complaint is such that some could not take part in everything, because events overlap.

Anna: My dream has always been to give our customers choice, so as they can decide as we can, whether they go to the cinema, theater or museum. Paradoxically, complains about Warsaw Cultural Week without Barriers events overlaped, for me is the realization of our goals. Today, our activities include the new institutions, which we  invited for years and they did not always wanted to cooperate with us. Today they want.

Take chick (stick) to the cinema (Zabierz laskę do kina) – this is my dream came true. I’ve always dreamed about social campaign. I’ve always wanted people to know that our audience want to enjoy the culture. People joined for free and helped us carry it out. And it worked. We were in every medium. It was extraordinary. It had a large extent – people cite on it by contacting us.

Robert: We believe that it is worth doing. Maybe it won’t create more positions on the labour market, but people will be happier.


Thank you for the interview – Olga Kożuchowska
The interview was conducted as part of the project „The learning process of blind and visually impaired people in non-formal and informal context”.