We then heard from two representatives of Berlin's museums regarding some of the struggles they encounter in the architecture of museums and the very concept of heritage. Debates surrounding the inclusion of those who might need to physically interact more with exhibitions - for instance, those with visual impairment being allowed to touch exhibits - versus the notion of preserving artefacts for future generations. Anja, who leads such interactive tours around art exhibitions, reported a mixed response from the general public: some thought it was ‘magic', while others deemed it unfair that some people were permitted to touch the statues. Perhaps this is a sad, but not hopeless, microcosm of inclusivity efforts everywhere.
Our day ended somewhat wearily. I felt aware of many problems, yet not without hope that others might increasingly benefit from that much- debated ‘inspiration' - or, indeed, from the social capital that can be afforded by including on an individual level.
What we took away from Dialogues on Disability
Alice Chappell, Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in English Language and Literature
It's really hard to articulate why Dialogues on Disability was such an important experience. It seems obvious to me that it was, even though it has only occupied a comparatively small part of the academic year - a small part of the summer, even. It also continues to be an important experience; I still find myself reflecting on our discussions and antics, and trying to live the ideas we espoused. Academically, the programme provided a fascinating conflation of sociology, philosophy, history and other topics. We utilised this interdisciplinary approach to deconstruct societal and our own assumptions surrounding disability, in order to understand how we, as individuals and parts of various cultures, might better include. The programme's setting was significant, also. My experience of being disabled is that my abilities to travel and to generate income are often affected; this programme enabled me to widen my horizons and enriched my general student experience, not only by facilitating something that is difficult for me, but by so doing in a way that prioritised my dignity. Dialogues on Disability was a fantastically inclusive melting pot of different needs and backgrounds, and this variety meant that none of us seemed ‘other’ - perhaps a rare and profound experience for disabled students. It certainly was for me.'
Erk Gunce, Master of Arts in Education Management
It's been a very educative week for me. It was the first time I had a long chat with a blind person about his needs. It was the first time I openly discussed learning difficulties. Something I keep observing in different cultures is that invisible disabilities are more stigmatised than visible disabilities. For instance, I learned that in Germany, mental health disabilities are more stigmatised than physical disabilities. I realised more needs to be done to build awareness around mental health. After a whole week of discussions on disability, very little was said about mental health, and most discussions focused on physical disabilities.
One of the most exciting moments of the week was the workshop I led on language. I really enjoyed having an open space to discuss the labels society use to talk about disabled people. It is very important to have such open yet respectful conversations around inclusion and oppression. Which words are OK to talk about disability? Special needs? Differently abled? Wheelchair user? Wheelchair-bound? Different people have different opinions, and it's so important to ask each individual which words they prefer.
A key message from the week was that humanity is united in their differences - regardless if someone is blind, deaf, or has any other sort of difference, we are human at our core. When fighting for inclusion and respect, we must remember our common features and march with solidarity.
Here's to a barrier-free world.