Breaking down barriers
I signed up to volunteer for State of Fashion, and now I get invited to a bunch of cool events. Today I attended a very interesting workshop on accessibility for festivals and events. A lot of the stuff I already knew because of some projects I’ve worked on before, specifically for differently abled people. I’ve also focused a lot in my life on accessibility on the internet, which is a little bit different than actually interacting with physical people. But a lot of the principles are similar. I guess I have an interest in it, because quite a few of my family members are inhibited to participate in the world normally.
I had an aunt that late in life, had to be in a wheelchair, but she was in a wheelchair for quite a long time. I think maybe 20 years, I had a cousin who….Well, the modern rendition of his gifts, his abilities is Asperger’s. But when we were younger, we were always told that he was weird or different. And he’s not actually that different. He is actually a very competent individual. I think most of the restrictions on the way he interacts or behaves in the world is because of what people have been telling him since he was born. I guess sometimes he is socially awkward, but I meet a lot of ‘competent’ people that are way more shy and awkward than him. I also have a cousin that has…gosh, they told us about the vocabulary and the language we should use to address these people and I already forgot what it is. But I already feel weird saying she has down syndrome. I think the more PC term is person with down. So she is a very interesting person, she talks so much. More than me or my mom. She’s very chatty and friendly and makes conversation with everyone around her. And she’s quite intelligent and informed about the things she’s interested in. Like she really immerses herself and goes really deeply into stuff. Her main interest is Japanese anime, which I don’t really enjoy that much. But I know a lot of other people who does. She’s very good at remembering facts and numbers. So you know, she can have endless conversations about stuff that she’s interested in. I guess most people wouldn’t expect her to conduct herself so well amongst others. Where she does sometimes struggle to interact, but I don’t think it’s only her actually, is when it comes to more physical relationships. There have been some unfortunate instances where people took advantage of her because she has a kind heart. She doesn’t want to offend people and tell them off. So unfortunately, she has run into some problems with people who wanted to, molest and sexually assault her. That’s the biggest issue, she can’t assert her physical and personal boundries.
Anyway, I was at this workshop, because I’m a volunteer for state of fashion. And they extended the workshop to everyone. I don’t really know if they thought that students like me would show up. But I find everything interesting. I also thought that the theme would apply to my research, because I am trying to figure out: how we can break free from dominant hegemonic structures; how we contextualise ourselves and our relationship to others in the world. These specific event also touches on communication, or how we can communicate in different ways. I think there’s a lot of application to the research I’m doing, since my research is all about extending how you look at the world. We also discussed different bodies. And the limitations off or on the body depending how the world is set-up.
When you don’t suffer too many setbacks and mental or physical afflictions you tend the classify people who interact differently as using the word disabled or invalid. We render them non participants or non actors. This of course, is very problematic, because even people who, I guess don’t have any quote, unquote, physical or mental problems, suffer from arbitrary labels and stigmas assigned to us. Why then do we categorise others in this hurtful way?
For example, when I was living in Japan, one of the barriers to participating in that culture was the complicated language and the cultural structures. And it was sometimes incredibly frustrating for me. I don’t think that experience was that much different than someone with disabilities trying to participating in this world. And the workshop was really interesting because they took us around the Musis Building in Arnhem – which is a really nice building – and we had to do exercises with wheelchairs or being blindfolds. We could not rely the senses or appendages we normally rely on on our normal. I was just an observer and had to take notes about improvements to the place. It was a revelation to learn how biased and inaccessible places are. It is all set up for what is considered the ‘normal’ version of human interaction. Besides being clumsy, I fall in the ‘normal’ spectrum, I guess. It was interesting to observe how, when you cannot rely in your usual faculties, how inconvenient things are. It get’s you thinking about people who faces accessibility struggles every day. They must be amazing problem solvers because they hack it somehow. They just do it differently than the ‘majority’.
Majority, what a problematic concept. Why is it eve a metric for solving anything anymore? We are so fixated on this pandering to the majority and it is a concept that doesn’t even exists. There are so many different things that are happening, so many nuances, so many things that we don’t see. And we really need to start thinking as a society or as, as humanity, about different approaches to solutions. Like how we will address all these nuances Why are we so obsessed with averages or where the focus lies? It’s daunting because it then feels like you have to optimise experiences at a granular level. And Neo-liberalism caused the atomisation of society so we don’t have that much cohesion anymore. I guess a lot of people are looking for ways to reclaim community. For me it feels like the main problem is categorisation and putting up the barriers to begin with. I don’t have answers yet, but I will continue to explore it.
I was thinking about why binaries exist in our life. Does it have to do with the fact that a big part of our body is divided into two’s? Two legs, two arms, two eyes. But we only have one nose and one mouth and we have 10 fingers and 10 toes. And then within our bodies, there’s a lot of other stuff as well. We have 1000s of nerve nerve endings. And we have like multiple organs.
Getting back to the conference…I learned a lot. I learned how to communicate with people who struggle to maybe participate in life and the way that we expect everyone to participate. Use simple, clear, direct language to not overcomplicate things especially when there are processing limitations or a lit of external announces or stimulation.
And then I was thinking about the lessons that I do in the morning with the Mercari people in Japan. Mercari is like the eBay of Japan, they have a lot of Japanese as well as foreign employees working there. And the foreign employees normally communicate using English (the most common language even though it might not be their mother tongue). So Mercari operates in two languages, Japanese and English. There is a lot of focus on meeting each other halfway in the communication process by using clear and simple language to convey information. Not superfluous or overly polite phrases. This concept is called Yasashi communication. Yasashi means soft, gentle or kind. It’s something that was pioneered by the Japanese government when they had the earthquake in Great Hanshin earthquake in Kobe in 1995. A lot of people were affected by that earthquake, like hundreds of thousands. And since the writing and communication system in Japan is really intricate, people have different levels of literacy depending on their age or educational background. A lot of people cannot read the more complicated characters of the pictographic script or understand ‘Keigo’, the polite version of the language (like the Queens English). So the government insisted on communicating things in the simplest and clearest way possible, to make the disaster relief information accessible to everyone. I agree that it is good communicating in a clear and simple way, but I also enjoy getting creative with language. I do however often get the feedback that my writing is too complicated. I’ve been doing it on purpose because I’m also working towards a specific goal. I am motivated by being back at university to improve my vocabulary and academic writing. But this creates an academic hierarchy where people can only participate if they understand a specific lexicon. And communication really shouldn’t be inaccessible. Like seriously. Why do we it? Why do I do it. Why do we want to overcomplicate things, it’s very easy to just communicate simple ideas. And there will always be nuances, but a lot of what we want to communicate cannot even be expressed in language. Maybe bodies, gestures, feelings and alternative energies could be used to communicate the more subtle things in life. it could be with a feeling or with a fact even, like how to transmit energies, or how to disturb the vitality. This is partly why I developed #artletics, to interact with virtuality using our bodies. I have been using movement and dance to choreograph movements but there might be some potential within sign language as well.
And this is also a subversive medium, Sign language is a medium that can transcend many boundaries and break many barriers because it’s a tool for communicating. But it’s a different way of communicating. It’s also something it’s quite embodied. Like you have to use your body like to do these movements. And it is interesting that they don’t even have a standardised version all over the world. Maybe they don’t need it, we have many languages, and like with spoken language there is not a universal system. Also, there are certain signs that we make with our hands to communicate, like pointing to someone, common and acceptable signs in our culture, but offensive in others, are offensive in others. I think there’s a lot of scope or application to expand my research into the realm of just moving your hands. It doesn’t have to be your entire body. And then there might be potential also to work with the face, interpreting certain facial queueus to interpret subtle or invisible forces in fashion.