“Eleanor Oliphant”: diversity, loneliness and hope

I’ve always loved reading, but sometimes the books I’ve had on my hand didn’t leave a deep marking inside of me. This isn’t certainly the case of the last one I read, “Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine“,  the debut novel by the Scottish Gail Honeyman, a little “literary sensation” that’s about to become a movie as well.

"Eleanor Oliphant in completely fine"

“Eleanor oliphant is completely fine”: the plot

Don’t worry: no spoiler! 🙂 I don’t mean to spoil your pleasure to enjoy this engaging and very well written novel. I’m just telling you something about the story of Eleanor, a character that you’ll hardly forget. Eleanor is an English young woman living an apparently “banal” life, between her job as an accountant at a graphic design the loneliness of her flat, with a plant as her only company. Eleanor is shy, not interested in being trendy, nor in socialize with her colleagues, who, after all, don’t do much to create a less than formal relationship with her. They see her as a “strange being”, due to her old-fashioned clothes, her sloppy appearance (marked by a scar spoiling her face, inheritance of the event that changed her life forever). Then, they make fun of her, isolating her and, at most, addressing her jokes and uncool nicknames. Nevertheless, as the novel’s title claims, she “is completely fine”. Or, at least, so she thinks, until, thanks to a series of events that I’m not unveiling, she’ll start to realize that there’s life beyond the borders of her routine and, gradually,  she’ll also learn to deal with her own spectres.

eleanor, “one of us”

” I’ve been the focus of far too much attention in my time. Pass me over, move along please, nothing to see here!”

I’ve found in this quote, one of my favourite ones in the novel, one of the traits that make me feel emotionally closer to Eleanor: indeed, like her, I’ve spent most of my life just longing for being invisible, not raising other people’s morbid curiosity. But, just like Eleanor, I’m gradually learning to make peace with myself, forgiving me for what I’m not guilty of and look at other people from a different perspective, not necessarily as potential “threats”, but also as “opportunities“, in every way.

So, here’s why I suggest you, shouldn’t you do it already, to read this wonderful novel: a breath of fresh air and a glimmer of hope for everyone. Since, in the end, there’s a little bit of Eleanor in everyone of us.

“Tutti in piedi”, an unusual story about love and disability

A few days ago, in the Italian cinemas, came out “Tutti in piedi” (“All stand“), a French comedy that unusually approaches a topic that movies have confronted with many times, mainly in these latest years: love and disability.

What’s unusual in “Tutti in piedi”? First of all, that, somewhat,  the tables turn. Jocelyn, the male character, is the typical irredimeable lady-killer, who tries to win every woman he bumps into over. It’s exactly this “predator” instinct that leads him to meet Florence, a charming woman living a very active life, as a refined musician and a tennis champ, who, due to a motoric disability, uses a wheelchair. He immediately falls in love with her and, due to a series of misunderstandings (Florence’ sister, who lives next Jocelyn’s dead mother, having found him sitting on his mother’s wheelchair, thinks he has a motoric disability as well) ends up feeling forced to keep on with his facade, being afraid that Florence wouldn’t accept him anymore, should he show her the way he really is.

"Tutti in piedi"

A frame from “Tutti in piedi”

That precisely represents, in many ways, a “new” element in the narration of the “standard” dynamics among disabled and non-disabled people: it isn’t Florence who feels to be “unqualified” due to her own condition, but Jocelyn, who’s afraid she wouldn’t like him anymore, should she get to know the truth about him.

The director of “Tutti in piedi”, Franc Dubosc, who also plays the role of Jocelyn, said that the idea to make a movie about disability rose from his mother’s experience, who, in her old age, ended up being unable to walk anymore and having to face the numerous architectonical barriers  that, until that time, neither she or her relatives had particularly noticed. From that experience, for the director, arose a new awareness and a growing curiosity towards the daily life of people with a disability, including their relationships with others. While making the movie, he realized that, as time passed by, his fear to hurt the disabled people feelings disappeared, as he kept on shooting. So, he came to the conclusion that, ultimately, you don’t need to pay particular attention while interacting (even for romantic purposes) with a disabled person: you just have to remember that you have a person in front of you, not a disease or a tricky condition.

“Ciak si aggira”: bypassing architectonical barriers is a game

We all know how many architectonical barriers who lives with a disability, but also who goes around our cities with little children or bulky luggage, has to face on a daily basis. Many of these barriers arise from disregard or carelessness (for instance, cars parked in front of ramps which enable people on a wheelchair to access a sidewalk). How to raise the awareness of the community, and, hence, of the (local and national) administrations towards the need to project spaces that are really “accessible”? An effective way can be, for instance, starting from the children, getting them used to this mindset through a game. This is the starting point of “Ciak si aggira“, a board game for children from 6 years old created by Ermio De Luca, an engineer with a disability, who, as a consequence, directly knows this issue.

Ciak si aggira

the plot

The “Ciak si aggira” characters are six children: Fabio, Giorgio, Mauro, Adele, Fanny and Marta, plus the “guest star” Isotta, the wheelchair Fabio uses to move around. The six friends live together a lot of adventures and enjoy moving around the city, to discover new places: will they be able to do it without having architectonical barriers to rain on their parade?

Ciak si aggira - the six friends and Isotta

how does “ciak si aggira” work?

The principle “Ciak si aggira” is based on is the same as the well-known game of the goose:  the players, using pieces, must move along the path designed on the board, recognizing and, precisely, bypassing the architectonical barriers they bump into, also getting to know the effects that those obstacles have on the mobility of people using a wheelchair or walking sticks to move.

The game is issed by La Macina Onlus, costs € 19.50 and can be requested sending an e-mail to  emailtowork@libero.it. If you’re looking for a gift idea that is funny, but also useful and smart for your children, you’ve found it!

“The shape of water”: a fable about diversities

Should you still be among the (few) people who haven’t watched it, I hope to convince you to immediately go to the cinema! Since “The shape of water“, the movie by Guillermo del Toro that won the Golden Lion at Venice International Film Festival in 2017 and four Oscar awards just a few months ago, tells a story that you’ll hardly forget, since it  wrings the  deepest heartstrings of everyone.

“The shape of water” is a modern fable set in Baltimore at the beginning of the Sixties, during the Cold War among the USA and the URSS. Its main characters represent various diversities: Eliza, an orphan young woman who is speechless after her vocal cords had been cut off when she was a child; Zelda, an Afro-American woman who works with Eliza as a cleaner; Giles, the old homosexual advertising illustrator living with Eliza, who is subjected to discrimination at work. Plus, of course, him: the Deus Brânquia, the “shape” the title of the movie (and of the novel that’s the other part of this project), who is worshipped as a god by the Amazonian people and has been captured and taken in chains at the State laboratory Eliza and Zelda work at, to examinate and use him against Russia. Marginalized human beings who, inevitably, meet and end up making an close and odd group.

The shape of water - Eliza and the Deus Brânquia

Eliza, who succeeded establishing a relationship based on silent empathy with the creature, decides to do her best to save it from an apparently sealed destiny and, helped by Giles, Zelda and one of the laboratory scientists (who is actually a Russian spy in disguise), rescues it and takes it in her flat. Here, they end up falling in love, but, before the happy ending, they’ll have to overtake several obstacles, in a crescendo of suspense and thrill.

The end of “The shape of water” (which I won’t unveil to you) is definitely a fable, as much as the tone of the whole movie. Nevertheless,  with its sensitivity and poetry, it launches a very important message, in its simplicity: beyond our differences, we all are equal and deserve to be treated (and loved) with respect and humanity.

“Non volevo morire vergine”, the sentimental education of a disabled woman

All of us have a more or less long list of books that, for any reason, have won a special place in our hearts. My personal list also includes “Non volevo morire vergine” (“I didn’t mean to die a virgin”), the last book by Barbara Garlaschelli, issued a few months ago and already (and deservedly!) a little literary success.

"Non volevo morire vergine"

The book tells the story of the writer, who became a quadriplegic when she was 15 after having bumped into a stone while she was plunging into the sea. Barbara Garlaschelli had already told her story in “Sirena (mezzo pesante in movimento)” (“Siren, heavy truck in movement”, a title that, in itself, suggests the self-deprecating tone the woman uses to describe her own condition, softening its hardest and more dramatic sides). But, this time, the perspective is quite different. In “Non volevo morire vergine”, Barbara Garlaschelli shares with her readers her sentimental and sexual education, which, soon after her accident, had seemed to her a chapter that, inevitably, was meant to stay close even being actually open.

Page by page, in “Non volevo morire vergine”, we follow Barbara’s evolution from her condition of “self-hidden” in her own armour to a young woman who becomes aware of the fact that, despite her accident and her being a disabled, still keeps her own femininity and, together with it, the possibility to please, seduce, stimulate desire and – why not?- even love in men.  So, she starts a series of more or less engaging relationships (there are also some asshole, as in everyone’s life, disabled or not), ‘til she meets her Love with the capital L.

Virginity Barbara wants (and succeeds) to get rid of isn’t just the strictly sexual one, but has a wider meaning:

“A virgin not just in my body, but also of experiences, life, mistakes, successes, failures, journeys, sun”

Barbara Garlaschelli tells everything using a light style, which invites to read, but without too much censorship. It, sometimes, can floor some readers, who have still, more or less consciously, a radicated taboo that sees disabled people (and, particularly, women) as beings who, at most, inspire pity, but sure don’t have, as the writer says, “right to physical and mental pleasure, joys of life, in all its declensions” (with everything it implies, also in terms of the incomplete fulfilment of serious policies about accessibility and inclusion).

What led the writer to share such an intimate part of her life through the pages of “Non volevo morire vergine” isn’t exhibitionism, but rather her will to transmit a strong message, not just addressed to the community as a whole, but also to so many people who, more or less voluntarily, renounce love or even, simply, pleasure, convinced (maybe, not just by themselves) they cannot be subject to it.

“Ascolta i miei passi”: autism meets prison

Autism is still an almost unknown disease, both as regards its causes and, therefore, potential treatments and, generally speaking, the most suitable ways to establish a contact with who is affected by it.  People with autism are often victims of bias and wrong certainties (also influenced by the way this condition has often been described in movies), as well as set aside because they’re seen as “strange” (and, then, potentially dangerous, according to many people). How can we understand the world of who lives with autism? How can we create proximity and dialogue? The “Ascolta i miei passi” (“Listen to my steps”) project, promoted by the Ortica Association in Milan aims to raise awareness towards this topic, starting from the direct listening of people with autism, who talk about themselves in short audio files, allowing others to know their daily life, their path, dreams and hopes.

Ascolta i miei passi

During the Disability Week (November 27th – December 2nd), Ortica Association brought “Ascolta i miei passi” inside a place that, according to collective imagination, also represents “a world apart”, despite being in the heart of the city: San Vittore prison. Thanks to an agreement with the prison management, during the five meetings organized, the prisoners had the chance to listen, using headphones, the stories told directly by people with autism. Not just it: they also had the chance to identify with the storytellers reality, symbolically wearing their shoes: those of children who have already been diagnosed, training shoes of the teenager who continuously walks up and down to let his angst off or, more, the shoes of a man who would like to become the protagonist of his own life, but cannot do that due to bias.

Bias are a common issue for people with autism- or other disabilities- and prisoners, after all. If we only knew these worlds closely, we’d realize that, all in all, differences are less marked than we used to think. And that’s exactly the meaning of the name chosen for the “Ascolta i miei passi” project. As a native American proverb states:

Before you judge my life or my attitude, wear my shoes, walk the path I’ve travelled. Live my pain, my doubts, my fears, my laughs. Remember that everyone of us has his own story. When you’ve lived my life, then you can judge me

Accessible tourisms: a prize for who helps them be known

We often talk about accessible tourisms, a trend which is (luckily) increasingly establishing, witnessing a higher awareness towards everyone’s licit need and will to travel, discovering new countries and different cultures. By the way, several initiatives (even in Italy) demonstrate that paying attention to the tourists with “special needs” isn’t just a generous act, but also a forward-looking and profitable strategy: as a matter of fact, taking into account that, limiting our talk to people with any disability, we’re talking about a quarter of the world population, not thinking about ways to adequately welcome them too means renouncing to a not exactly unimportant market share.

accessible tourisms

But, there’s often an issue on the table: transmitting correctly the message about the importance of accessible tourisms and help all the existing services, structures and initiatives be known through mass media. From this need arises an initiative promoted by the non-profit organization Diritti Diretti: the Premio Turismi Accessibili (Accessible Tourisms Prize), precisely aiming to award journalists, advertisers and communications specialists who succeed in “overtaking the barriers”,  describing though radio-TV services, advertising campaigns, videos or communications campaigns entities which succeeded producing social and economic development, combining attractiveness, innovation, appearance and/or sustainability and accessibility culture.

Premio Turismi Accessibili - Accessible Tourisms Award

The Accessible Tourisms Prize, which has reached its third edition, is addressed to the existing accessibility, in the various categories of tourism: culture, food & wine, sports, conventions, sea, mountains, thermal baths, education, religion. The goal is to demonstrate, through concrete examples, to entrepreneurs and institutions that serious investments in accessibility can improve a territory and its touristic and cultural offer, resulting in an advantage both for tourists and residents and- what’s not a secondary issue- with important economic effects for the enterprises operating to this end.

how to participate in the accessible tourisms prize?

To participate, you must register, filling, by May 5th 2018, the form that’s available on the Accessible Tourisms Prize website. Among all the participants, two winners will be selected: the project which will receive more votes by the users will gain 1000 €, while the project selected by the experts’ panel will receive a plaque. For more details about the contest, please check its announcement.

PS. Move@bility runs for the award as well, with its article about “B&B Like Your Home“. You can vote for it following this link 

World Usability Day: design for inclusion

 “User experience” is increasingly important for who works in  development and design, at all levels.  It is confirmed by the 2017 edition of the World Usability Day, the event that will take place, for the fourth year in a row, in Rome on November 8th and 9th, gathering Italian and international experts in workshops and talks. The World Usability Day was established in 2005 by the Usability Professionals ‘Association (UXPA). Since then, every year, on the second Thursday of November, all around the world there are events aiming to boost awareness towards the importance of thinking and designing taking into account, first, the main character: the user who what you’re working on is addressed to.

World Usability Day 2017

The subject of this edition of the World Usability Day is user experience as an inclusion promoter. The goal of design professionals, as a matter of fact, must be contributing to shape a better future, taking into consideration the specific needs of all the people, seen in their own uniqueness. In a world that changes quickly, also under a political and demographic perspective, we can’t keep on designing keeping in mind just a part of population, forgetting about the remainders.

How to reach this ambitious goal? The speakers who will alternate on the World Usability Day stage will present different perspectives and food for thought: design thinking to create technologies and products for all, services accessibility and usability, empathy as  a starting point for a designing process focused on the individual.

This initiative underlines, once again, the increasing awareness towards the unavoidable need to think according to the “Design for All” logics, developing products and services suitable for the specific abilities, attitudes and needs of the users. As the insiders say, designers are often reluctant towards change. Then, it’s important to help them approaching their job using something we all, as human beings, have: empathy, that is the ability to “put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes”, feeling his needs, spirit and life as ours.

 

 

Hackability@Barilla: accessibility enters the kitchen

For many people, cooking is a joy and a passion, as it’s confirmed by the success of so many TV programmes about it, broadcasted all day long on all the TV channels. But for people with a disability, isn’t always possible to enjoy this passion since, very often, the design of utensils (and their packaging) doesn’t take into account accessibility, that is the possibility that they are used also by someone with any physical limitation. That’s the starting point of Hackability@Barilla, the hackathon promoted by the well-known food company to promote the meeting (and the chance to work together) among “makers” (designers, computer technicians, digital professionals) and, precisely, people with disability, to create together utensils (and their packaging) suitable for disabled people.

Hackability@Barilla

Designed by Freepik

HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN hackability@barilla

Do you have an idea that could make a cooking utensil or its packaging more accessible? Or is creating your passion and you want to put it to use in an initiative with a high value and social benefit? If you answered “yes” to one (or both) of these questions, from September 18th to December 15th 2017, you can “answer the call” (that is, enrol) directly on the Hackability@Barilla website, filling the registration form with all the requested info. The teams selected by the company will have the opportunity to work together   at its location, in Parma, in January 2018. Then, the selected ideas will be presented, together with their prototypes, at the end of February 2018, always at Barilla offices in Parma. For more details, you can check the guidelines.

Hackability@Barilla joins many other initiatives which, in the last years, have increasingly focused on the importance of accessibility and inclusion for all the people, including those with a disability. In this case, there’s something more: the involvement of the individuals concerned, the disabled people, who are called to work together with the makers to help them looking at the objects also from the perspective of the specific needs of each individual. A golden opportunity, which confirms the commitment that Barilla summarizes also in its mission: “Good for You, Good for the Planet, Good for the Community”.

 

School and disability, between excellence and chronic deficiency

September: in these days, school gates open again all over Italy and, among the students sitting at the desks, there are also more than 235 thousand with a disability (about 3% on the total), almost equally distributed among nursery school, primary school, grammar school and high school. But is the school ready to welcome and support them, so that they can fully exercise their right to education?

Italy is the leading country for school inclusion of disabled students, to the extent that, at the beginning of 2016, it received an official recognition by the UN. Indeed, while they are still present in countries such as Spain and Germany, here in Italy the so-called “special classes” (real ghettos inside the “normal” schools, where students with physical or cognitive disabilities and those who experienced another kind of disadvantage were enclosed) are, now (and luckily), just a past thing, since they were abolished in 1977, when new flexible educational models were introduced, aiming to promote the integration among all the students, beyond their peculiarities, using, where needed, also specialized teachers. The 104/92 law further emphasized the importance of integrating the disabled students of all levels into normal classes.

school and disability

A long way has been walked also as regards removing architectonical barriers, during the years, with more than 80% of schools having stairs and bathrooms suitable for physically disabled people. Things get slightly worse when we look at expedients for sensory disabled people and accessibility of internal and external spaces: only 30% of schools, as a matter of fact, are equipped with visual, acoustic and tactile signage, while a little bit more than 40% has easily accessible paths.

Another not exactly rosy chapter regards those who’d assist students with particularly severe disabilities and special needs teaching assistants, who are essential to ensure access to didactics and inclusion to students with cognitive disabilities. Every year, punctually, there’s a raging controversy because they’re not enough to ensure adequate assistance to all the students who would need it. Unfortunately, there are also issues about their training, often inadequate to the specific needs of the students they’d be supposed to assist. Not to mention the fact that, if being a teacher, more than just a job, is a matter of vocation (or a real “mission”, as some say), that’s even more so for those who, due to their specific role, have to deal with particularly tricky students, often unable to collaborate: without a proper training and if they live their role just as a way to “earn money”, it’s easy to get discouraged, leave students to their own devices, contributing to ghettoize them, instead of including them into the school system, which is the fundamental harbinger of their full and successful inclusion in the community.