V.I.S.O.: a project of sharing and inclusion

One of the main reasons why I created Move@bility is to raise awareness towards existing and effective examples of accessibility and inclusion. This is exactly the case of the V.I.S.O. project  (its acronym stands for Viaggiamo Insieme Superiamo Ostacoli, i.e. “Travel Together Overtaking Obstacles”), created in Padua in 2018 by the Centro Studi l’Uomo e l’Ambiente and funded by Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Padova e Rovigo. The main objective of the project is to promote the social inclusion of people with physical or cognitive disabilities, through travels  and sharing cultural and leisure experiences, at the moment in Padua area, but with the ambition to gradually expand all over Italy.

V.I.S.O. - Foto di gruppo durante un'uscita

A group photo during a tour

what does v.i.s.o. do in practice?

The project leaders of V.I.S.O. organize and propose guided tours, day trips and experiences to know new places and meet new people, do sport and have fun together in an accessible way for everyone. They prepare practical guides and design customized paths, based on the participants’ specific needs, to visit museums, monuments, buildings, churches, parks, squares and know arts, history, social events, customs and traditions. Both guides and paths report  architectonical barriers (for instance, the presence and height of stairs, to facilitate who moves using wheelchairs or other aids) and other peculiarities, such as intense noise or potentially crowded locations, so that people who are particularly sensitive to these cases (for instance, who has a sensory disability or suffers from a autism spectrum disorder) to avoid unpleasant surprises once on site or, if possible, to choose an alternative path.

All the available guided tours are announced well in advance both on the V.I.S.O. project’s website and on its social profiles. The offered activities  also include the opportunity to spend time in sports and leisure activities, but, first of all, to socialize. This is a particularly important trait for those who, due to their own condition or the situation they live in, risk to get isolated.

V.I.S.O. - Sport

A moment of sharing focused on sport

Do you like the V.I.S.O. project? You can even financially support it, donating on Rete Del Dono. Would you like to get more info about the project or about how to participate in the next guided tours? You can get in touch with its leaders through the contact details  specified on its website. Is there anything similar in your city? If so, please inform me through a mail and I’ll be happy to share and raise awareness towards them on Move@bility: after all, that’s exactly how I got to know the V.I.S.O. project! 🙂

 

“Diversamente Amore”: a successful operation?

Inclusion” and “accessibility”, as I intend them, don’t just apply to transfers,  removal of architectonical barriers, access to work.  All these fields are very important, better essential, for a good life. But it isn’t less important, as we’ve stated many times, the chance to fully live also an aspect that’s too often underestimated (or totally neglected) of all the people life, including those with any disability: affectivity in all its sides. This is what “Diversamente Amore” (“Diversely Love”) is about. The show was broadcasted some days ago by Rai2 (and can still be watched for a few days on Raiplay.it), presented- better: narrated- by the paralympic champion Bebe Vio.

Diversamente Amore

Diversamente Amore” narrates, through the direct protagonists, the love stories of five “diverse” couples, that is with at least one of them having any disability. From their daily life, substantially, emerges a message: beyond the specific conditions of people (and the specific needs they imply), a disabled person (whatever the disability is) can love and be loved exactly like anyone else. Limits imposed by her disability condition don’t imply, by themselves, the impossibility to love, nor, even less so, to be loved… even by totally “able-bodied” people.

The idea “Diversamente Amore” starts from is, for sure, good. In a social context where, despite the progresses made in these decades, it’s still normal, for people with a visible disability, feeling as they have “all eyes on themselves” (and not to admire them…), being  alternatively seen as “poor sods” to pity (or to avoid, or, in extreme cases, to persecute and use to pour out the worse instincts, as some sad chronicles recall) or “heroes” to be exalted for their “courage”, “strength”, whatever can remember that also who has a disability, beyond his own specific issues, faces exactly the same problems as everyone else (work, love stories, daily problems, etc.) is welcome.  Also, the tone of voice used during the narration avoids (almost always, at least) pietism, which too often is typical of these experiments.

Diversamente amore

But…  I don’t know what you think, but, while watching the show, I felt like something was missing. What? Well, for sure, picking just five stories to represent the multi-faced world of disability wasn’t an easy task.  But, except for some secondary changes, situations and daily problems narrated in at least two stories were very similar, not to say almost overlayable. Maybe that’s why I’m involved in this, but it would have been nice to watch also stories which differentiate themselves from the die-hard stereotype “motoric disability = wheelchair”.  Furthermore, it seemed to me that, also in this case, there was too much focus on the “heroic” side of the couples, their “courage” to get and stay together, both from the “diverse” and the “normal” part of them. That’s true: staying with someone with an “important” disability isn’t always easy.  But staying with someone else, even when there’s no disability involved, isn’t always a bed of roses, with St. Valentine’s hearts and cuteness, is it?

An ancient proverb says: “Anything is better than nothing”.  So, let’s take what’s good (and that’s a lot) in “Diversamente Amore” and hope that next experiments about this topic will increasingly show the normality of feelings, before the “diversity” among people who are linked by them.

OSO: beyond barriers, the strength of sports

Some time ago, we already talked about the importance of sports for who lives with a disability, not just as a hobby, but also as a way to overthrow cultural barriers and facilitate the real and effective social inclusion. Also last year’s Rio Paralympic Games represented an important step towards that direction, demonstrating (if ever the need arose) that also who has a disability can be a champion in sports, under appropriate conditions. This principle is the basis of OSO – Ogni Sport Oltre (Every Sport Beyond), the project launched by Fondazione Vodafone Italia to promote and support projects and initiatives which, through sports, promote the inclusion of disabled people into the community.

OSO Ogni Sport Oltre

As the official video of this initiative states more than once, the OSO code word is “Change your story. Disable your own limits”, since, as demonstrated by the stories of many celebrities (Bebe Vio, Alex Zanardi, and others) involved in this initiative, the difference is made also by our attitude, the way we look at our own disability and the decision “not to let it win” and find, however, a way to live our passions (not just those related to sports) with some “tweak”, but with the same intensity as the others.

OSO Diversamente Abili Ugualmente Sportivi

What are you saying? It’s true and right, but passing from theory to practice is often difficult, if not impossible, firstly because it isn’t that easy finding info about what already exists, maybe just a few kilometres far from us? That’s the other reason why OSO website was built: there you’ll find not only the stories of those who “got it” or new projects to fund (also through crowdfunding), but also info and a map to search for the nearest sport structures.

So, no more excuses: are we ready to “disable our own limits”?

OSO - Volleyball

*Pictures taken from OSO – Ogni Sport Oltre official website 

Sexuality and disabled people: an enduring taboo

Do disabled people have sex or are, simply, interested in sexuality and in coupledom like the “normal” ones? If we only give a superficial look at the situation, in Italy and abroad, the answer to this question could seem negative. But, actually, things are “quite different”.

Lorella Ronconi

Lorella Ronconi (© Maria Vittoria Peccatori)

We’ll talk about it with Lorella Ronconi, Knight of the Italian Republic for spending her life to establish and protect the disabled people rights, including that to affectivity and sexuality. Lorella,  who is affected by a heavily disabling physical disability, has a solid working background in associations, non-profit organizations, local institutions, where she has put her typically Tuscan stubbornness at the service of the rights of who has no voice, fighting to remove architectonical and cultural barriers that still weigh on the life of millions of disabled people, not just in Italy.

– Hi, Lorella, and thanks for your willingness to have this chat. Would you like to introduce yourself to Move@bility’s friends? 

I’m a Tuscan 54 woman and, even though, since when I was 2, I’ve been living with a chronic genetic disease, I’m still in love with life. Thanks to my parents and to knowledgeable teachers, I was among the first disabled people in Italy who attended “normal” schools. My attitude and openness towards others have always led me to be personally committed to social work. I’m very keen on arts, poetry and web, particularly on social media, that I see as essential tools to overtake cultural barriers which still ghettoize us, disabled people.

– Let’s immediately get to the main subject of this meeting: disabled people and sexuality. Why is this topic still a taboo, in 2016?

At the bottom of the taboo there’s a view of the disabled individual as “sick”, while disability is, above all, a permanent condition (both physical or psychic). Generally, when I deal with this topic in public contexts, I use the following example: when someone is in bed with flu, it’s hard to see him as sexually desirable, so you only take care of him to help him getting over. Well, who sees the combination among disabled people and sexuality as a taboo looks at us, disabled people, as if we’d be permanently in bed with flu: then, woe betide seeing us as sexually desirable or, even less so, active! In the best case, they consider us as eternal children, by nature lacking sexual impulses and desires.

– For disabled women (and we’re well aware of this, since we’re both part of this category), this topic is even more “sensitive”, since it feels the effect of the same cultural legacy that, for centuries, has seen (and, in some cultures, still sees) woman as an “object” and not a “subject”, when it comes to sexual impulses. But is it so, actually?

The different way to look at the two genders is a fact among “able-bodied” people, as you said. Even when we talk about sexuality, we almost automatically think to the disabled man, as if we, the disabled women, didn’t have that need. Media also contribute to empower this opinion: there are still too fee movies, just to give an example, where disability, in all its facets, is described “from a female perspective”. But sexual impulse isn’t linked to the way we walk, see, hear: it’s naturally inside us as human beings, without any difference, apart from the “mechanical” part, among the two sexes, regardless of any disability.

-In your opinion, the advent of the sexual assistant is an effective solution and, if so, is it effective for both sexes? Does it satisfy the natural need for affectivity, besides satisfying instincts (that are natural as well, of course)?

Both for male or female disabled people, sexual assistant, alone, isn’t enough to answer, with a magic wand, all the individuals’ specific needs, even more so in such a delicate field as affectivity and sex. I think we lack a clear project, at a national level, to “design” this professional profile, that, as it is commonly considered, for sure answer more effectively the male “mechanical” needs. For women, it’s a little bit more complex – even at a “mechanical” level- in addition to our greater need for an emotional involvement. We’d need to establish a well-designed professional profile, able to fully answer the “physiological” and emotional needs (these are, for instance, satisfied by the “cuddle-therapy”) of disabled people, both men and women. Prior to the sexual assistant, we must train professional profiles such as care workers, consultants, psychologists and psychiatrists, so that they actually know that disabled people have also sexual and emotional needs to satisfy and can be ready to effectively answer these licit needs. On the contrary, nowadays, too often, the “problem is solved” prescribing bromide pills (which only inhibit libido) or transferring everything, once again, to families, with heavy psychological effects, for parents who have to satisfy their sons “physiological” needs also in such an intimate field and, when ask for help or advice, hardly find people ready to effectively answer their doubts.

– How important is the emotional and sentimental part, in the sexual life of a disabled individual (regardless of the specific gender)? 

It’s fundamental, since love is life, for everyone, including disabled people.

– Let’s try to figure out a scene: two individuals, a disabled and an “able-bodied”, together, in a “very lovely” attitude. In most of cases, people looking at them think they are friends, relatives or, at most, a patient and his/her caregiver/assistant. How can we make those that you effectively defined “dull people” understand that this is absolutely normal?  

We’re in the age of communication, so let’s use it! We need a lot of awareness campaigns also about sexuality, an essential part of the disabled people life, as it is for everyone else. We must “shock”, letting them see first-hand that disability isn’t the opposite of sex and laws of attraction, even towards the “able-bodied”.

– In your opinion, what can we do, under an institutional and cultural perspective, to promote a culture of real acceptance of disability as a condition not to pity, but to see as absolutely normal, overthrowing not only architectonical barriers, but also (and above all) the cultural ones?

Standing up for it, let other people see that we are human beings, not sick pets to take care of. Plus, commit ourselves to see the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (signed by Italy in 2009) and the existing laws about architectonical barriers removal  followed, also allocating an adequate budget. But, above all, we, disabled people, must “act as a network” and go into politics, commit personally, together, to get an outcome. Only in Italy, according to ISTAT data, there are more than 4 million of disabled people, plus their relatives: we must “make noise”. We’re not invisible and we mustn’t be so, even when it comes to advertising and marketing: how long will we have to wait until a disabled testimonial appears in a “cool” brand commercial?

We’re looking forward to that! And maybe… Stay tuned! 

Architectonical and cultural barriers: no more!

The biggest obstacle to the effective inclusion of everyone, despite their specific condition, is the existence of barriers, both architectonical and cultural, that, in spite of the undeniable and numerous progresses made throughout the years, still heavily weigh on many people lives.

Whoever has had, even temporarily, to deal with a physical or sensory disability, but also elderly people and parents with little children know how often, during the day, it happens to bum pinto obstacles while walking around: lack of ramps (or unsuitable ones); vehicles left in front of the existing ramps; staircases or single steps without a handrail; shops, meeting points or (that’s worse) public services without an accessible entrance; elevators (if any) always out of order or dirty and smelly; public transports that are accessible only in theory, and so on. The list of architectonical barriers is, virtually, unlimited.

barriere

Yet, law speaks clearly, starting from the Italian Republic Constitution, whose art. 3 states:

It is responsibility of the Republic to remove the economic and social obstacles that, limiting freedom and equality among citizens, block the people full development and the effective participation of all the workers in the political, economic and social organization of the Country

Throughout the years, many other measures have ratified the need and the duty, both for public authorities and private businesses, to do all they can to remove architectonical barriers.

The 13/89 Law regulates also the architectonical barriers removal in private buildings, foreseeing facilitations and contributions to improve their accessibility, when they host people with permanent disablements or functional limits.  The Irpef rate deduction for such activities is equal to:

  • 50%, to be calculated on a maximum amount of 96,000 euros, if the cost has been paid between June 26th 2012 and December 31st 2016;
  • 36%, to be calculated on a maximum amount of 48,000 euros, for costs paid starting from January 1st 2017.

The activities that can benefit from deductions include, for instance: an outdoor elevator (in a building where it would be impossible to have one indoor), stairlifts or ramps to access the building or the apartment where the interested person lives.

But there’s still a long way to go, in order to reach the effective and full accessibility in our cities, and there are a lot of barriers to be removed as well, first of all cultural ones.

In these days, social media are giving a big echo to the news of the TripAdivisor user who issued a negative review for a resort in the Abruzzi, just because it had hosted a group of disabled people who, according to the user, had “disturbed” the serenity of the holiday, both for him and his children.

This is just an example of ordinary intolerance towards who, for whatever reason, is “different”. Only if we go beyond those cultural barriers and recognize the need to get to know with anybody else (including people with serious disabilities) for the development of our society, it will be possible to effectively overthrow the physical obstacles and achieve the full accessibility.