Sanremo 2021 and the narration of disabilities

Let me first say that I’m not a huge fan of Sanremo Festival, or of variety shows in general. Nevertheless, today I’m talking about it since this year it also talked about disability, during one of its nights, with two “themed” interventions: the monologue by the actress Antonella Ferrari and the little show between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Donato Grande, bomber of the Italian national power-chair football team. Two very different moments, both for their “format” and for their style: on one hand, Antonella Ferrari’s mologue, focused on her disease (multiple sclerosis)  and on the narration of her path to the right diagnosis; on the other hand, the “duet” between the A.C. Milan champion and his “sitting” colleague, with a few passage of the ball in favor of cameras. But, in both cases, watching the videos, I’ve found some “dissonances”, more or less evident. Let’s analyze them more in detail, to understand what I mean.

Antonella Ferrari a Sanremo 2021

Antonella Ferrari presented herself on Sanremo’s stage wearing a very elegant red dress, with a short, very engaging monologue narrating her path to the diagnosis and, then, her happiness, when she, finally, had not to “hide herself” anymore (did she feel ashamed? Was she afraid of what others might think? We don’t know), reaching the climax at the end: “My disease hasn’t to be the main character. I’m not my multiple sclerosi: I’m an actress, I’m Antonella Ferrari”. That’s true and totally right. But, then, why did she focus her monologue exclusively on that topic?Of course she wanted to raise awareness towards it. But are we sure that it has been the message that reached the viewers? Judging by the comments I read on social media the day after, I don’t think so: they were totally positive, praising her courage, her “example” and so on with the same old rhetoric surrounding who lives with a disability.

Donato Grande a Sanremo 2021

But that’s still “nothing” compared with what we saw when it was the turn of Donato Grassi, with Amadeus and Zlatan Ibrahimovic: he wearing casually (jeans and his football shirt), in the middle of the other two men in evening clothes (as that occasion would have required); a situation that, on the whole, seemed more an interaction among two adults and a kid (obviously, the kid was intended to be the man with a disability…) rather than among three adult men and the feeling that, rather than a tribute to Donato and his sport ability, it was a way to highlight his much more famous colleague. Not to mention Amadeus who had started, all in all, well, but then slipped in many occasions: from talking about the rights of those “suffering from disability“(it is a condition, not a disease…), to “handicapped“, to the paternalistic lecture to those who, using the parking lots reserved to disabled people, cause troubles to those who would be entitled to use them (his original words were “slightly” different…). In short, again the same old rhetoric…

How can it be possible that, in 2021, we are still unable to show and talk about disabilities avoiding the dualism among “superheroes” and “poor fellows”? Yet, it would be so easy… You’d just have to remember that beind different is absolutely normal, there’s no need to use childish language and attitude: respect for people is enough, in short.

Will we make it? I hope so,  despite all.”Perché Sanremo è Sanremo“…

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 

“Speechless”: can we laugh at disability?

In these days, I watched the first two episodes “Speechless”, a TV series broadcasted a few months ago in the USA and now arrived in Italy (Fox  broadcasts it on Sky platform every Friday evening). It’s a comedy, but with a particular not to undervalue: for the first time in this TV genre, the main character is a boy with disability (who, just like me, grew up in the ’80s-‘90s, will remember the precedent of “Life goes on”,  the story of a family which included Corky,  a boy with Down syndrome, but the genre was quite different).  In this case, the main character is JJ DiMeo, a teenage boy suffering from a cerebral palsy, which forces him to use a wheelchair and prevents him from speaking (from here comes the comedy title) without the support of a device equipped with a keyboard and a laser pointer to pick numbers and letters and, this way, communicate with others.


There would be all the premises for a sad and tear-jerking story. But “Speechless” is quite the opposite: you often laugh, and even loudly. JJ’s “diversity” and his daily issues (the struggle of his scrappy mother, Maya, to ensure him the access to school from the main entrance and not using that reserved to garbage, in the first episode of the series, is unforgettable) aren’t hidden, nor underrated. But, first, from this series emerges the “normality” of JJ and his family. Yes, JJ is sick, has clear issues and, to do things that, for all of us, are granted, needs help from his family and his unlikely (but very funny) assistant- school janitor, Kenneth. But it doesn’t make him inferior to others, thanks to his caustic humour and bright mind.

But what I liked the most about “Speechless” is that, contrary to what they usually do on tv or in movies when talking about disability, here there’s no exaltation of the diverse “superiority”. Mind you: when he arrives in the new school, teachers and schoolmates try to welcome JJ in the spirit of the classic “politically correct”, dedicating to him a standing ovation without any reason (which leaves the boy quite perplexed, indeed).  But, precisely, the reaction of JJ and his family (quaint characters, but who you easily grow fond of) floors everyone, letting them understand that, maybe, they’d better change their attitude.

The "Speechless" cast

The “Speechless” cast

Watching “Speechless, you almost end up not seeing JJ’s wheelchair and device, focusing on fulminating gags among the characters and, all in all, on the “normality” that emerges from it. Ultimately, as Kenneth immediately understands, JJ is a teenager like the others, in every way. His disability is just a condition like any other, not a mark.

Advertising and diversity: is something changing?

We’ve stated many times, here, that media are essential in the process of removing cultural barriers and establishing a new disability culture. While fields such as cinema and fashion are taking important steps forward, approaching disability, and diversity as a whole, in a way that overturns many stereotypes from the past, advertising is still almost totally closed to people with a disability:  except for the Pubblicità Progresso campaigns and the well-known commercial with Checco Zalone, how many other examples of advertising with disabled people come up to your mind?


That’s true, there are campaigns aiming to eradicate stereotypes connected to the “ideal” beauty concept (an example for all: the Dove© campaign for Authentic Beauty ), but there’s still another step forward missing. Yet, at least 1/5 of the world population, today, has a disability: why keeping on excluding those people from advertising, which, logically, would be supposed to reflect all the sides of the world we live in?

But something seems to be changing. In the USA, for instance, there’s a lot of buzz (also thanks a massive usage of social media) around Changing the Face of Beauty, an association which aims to push brands to use in their adv campaigns also people with Down syndrome.

changing the face of beauty

Pictures taken from the Changing the Face of Beauty Facebook page

And what about Italy? As it often happens, unfortunately, it takes a while for our country to adopt Eatalysuch inputs. Yet, something is changing in our advertising as well. For instance, the picture issued on the Milanese edition of the national newspaper “la Repubblica” on November 1st, to advertise Eataly Smeraldo, the Milanese location of the well-known franchise of “made in Italy” restaurants and food and wine shops: for the first time, among the others, there’s also someone with Down syndrome, who precisely works there. Then, it isn’t a pietistic representation of disability, but an accurate portrayal of reality: the girl, as her other colleagues in the picture, is there as a professional, not to “show a disabled person” (and give themselves a good conscience, maybe arousing some buzz).

The real inclusion of everyone can be reached not just granting equal opportunities to access work, education, mobility, but also seeing on the mass media all the aspects of our community, including disabled people, in their daily normality, which, on closer view, isn’t that far from that of any other one.


Talking about disability: words matter

Talking about disability can still be often difficult, today. When dealing with this topic, you face embarrassment, discomfort, as if, even just pronouncing “that” word you could bring bad luck upon yourself.

For centuries, people thought that disability (and diseases in general) were, somehow, linked to a “fault” by who was affected by it, a sort of stigma marking someone to keep away. This resulted in the almost total social exclusion of disabled people, hidden by their families (or thrown out of their own home), as if they were a “stain” to hide from the community.

Nowadays, luckily, this prejudice has been largely overcome, at least in the most culturally and economically advanced countries (it’s not by chance that these two things generally go together): there are laws ensuring equal dignity and rights in all the fields to disabled people, from work to personal and private life, there’s a growing awareness about accessibility and need to invest more resources on it for the benefit of the entire community.

Talking about disability

Nevertheless, there are still unfair, and often (even accidentally) offensive habits, when it comes to talk about disability or, even more, deal with someone affected by a disability, both motoric, sensory or psychic. Pity (not intended as the Virgilian pietas), discomfort, inappropriate question even from perfect strangers (“What do you exactly have?”, “Why do you walk this way?”, “Isn’t there anything you can do to…?”), tendency to look at disabled people as if they were children, even though they’re adult. But also, levity, habit to use terms associated to a condition of disability (e. g. “handicapped”, “spastic”, “mongoloid”, and so on) as insults, to deride someone else’s physical or cognitive traits, or to consider a motoric or sensory disabled person as she was necessarily “retarded” (here we have the insult again…) or, however, losing her marbles.

How can we overtake all of this and establish a correct vision, a real disability culture? Two answers come up to my mind for first: school and media.

diversityChildren have a natural inclination not to discriminating the “diverse” ones, unless an adult they trust teaches them to do it: we all have seen children different for culture, race, conditions playing together without any issue, because what they see in the other one is simply someone to play with, not a stranger, a different skin colour, a disability. It’s essential that school helps strengthening this natural inclination to include, promoting continuous exchanging, living together and sharing among able-bodied and disabled children.

mass mediaAlso mass  media can and must have an important role in establishing the disability culture, first of all using the right terms and manner when talking about disability: less “pain TV” and disabled people shown as they were caricatures or freaks, more disabled people in tv shows (even as presenters, in addition to being hosts or spectators, why not?), in movies, commercials, on glossy magazines’ covers and in TV series. Not necessarily as the “poor sods” or the “heroes”. Nor as the “good guys” by definition. We can’t take for granted that a disabled person is good, generous, helpful with everyone or, in one word, better than a non-disabled one. Disabled people, just like anyone else, can also be “asshole”, bad, vindictive, selfish and more.

Simply because the disabled people are (precisely) people, with qualities and lacks, as everyone else. People who live a particular condition, for sure. But people, not better or lesser beings.