The Sunday Leader

Making Ability Visible

People with disabilities are the largest minority group worldwide. They are pushed to the margins of society due to discrimination based upon prejudice, lack of knowledge or cultural beliefs. Without a voice and control over strategic decision-making in their lives, people with disabilities are facing barriers to equal opportunities and equal dignity in all aspects of life. Most of the time, they are denied fundamental rights that would enable them to make their living independently, such as access to education and work. The core problem is society’s general tendency to focus on a person’s ´dis-ability`, or on what they cannot do, instead of their ´ability`. People with disabilities are often seen as a social, economic and political burden for society as a whole. This does not allow them the space to encourage change.

In Sri Lanka, people with disabilities suffer strong discrimination and marginalization. In many cases, children have to drop out from school, and adults struggle to find a job. Such an environment puts substantial barriers and drawbacks on both people with disabilities and their families what is taken from them is the opportunity for self determination and the development towards independent living. VisAbility is a non-profit association that challenges this situation in Sri Lanka. Comprised of members with and without disabilities, it aims to break with stigmatization and to empower people with disabilities to become equal actors in society and to find voices that are heard. VisAbility calls for respect, tolerance and understanding for people with disabilities within all levels of society and government. Physical and mental diversity is not a disadvantage, but an opportunity for societies because it can provide important focus to reflect about social competences. Diversity can stimulate individuals to discover, and possibly re-think and re-define values that may be taken for granted, principles in life and understanding between each other. It is up to society to adequately recognize the abilities that are to be found in the frightening otherness of people with disabilities, and, in doing so, to translate diversity into equal opportunities and benefits for all. For this reason, VisAbility launches its project ´Making Ability Visible` in Sri Lanka (July-August 2015) to promote inclusion of people with disabilities by putting emphasis on their real abilities and added value for society.

Making Ability Visible` is going to take place in four regions from 6-10 July in Anuradhapura, 21-25 July in Polonnaruwa,  6-10 August in Ampara, 21-25 August  in Galle or Baticalloa. It is sponsored by the German Federal Foreign Office, Schmitz Stiftungen and the Goethe-Institut Sri Lanka. VisAbility will offer two workshops over five days in each region. The first workshop on mixed-abled dance runs over the first four days and is led by the choreographers König and Umagiliya. People with and without disabilities from the area who are willing to take part are invited beforehand. On the fifth day, VisAbility provides a workshop on basic rights that also offers space for exchange for concerned individuals and their families. This part is coordinated by Marambio. During the mixed-abled dance workshop, König and Umagiliya will work with means of contemporary dance and improvisation, especially techniques of Contact Improvisation. Contact Improvisation originally served as a kind of exploration of body movements and expressions. It offers several opportunities to address the social phenomenon of ´the otherness`. The results of the workshop – a short dance performance – will be presented to the public. Following the presentation, VisAbility would like to invite the audience to take part in a discussion.

Using dance as a medium has special effects. König stresses: “Art has the power to bring people together. It promotes the communication between people of diverse origins, physicality or cultural affiliations.” Based on her former projects with dancers with and without disabilities, she adds: “Dance is a tool to present ´the otherness` in a positive light. My mixed-abled dance pieces have generally opened up discussions with the audiences that were impressed, surprised and moved at the same time by the ability and energy of dancers with disabilities. Sometimes I met people years later who told me that these performances have changed their attitudes towards people with disabilities and life in general. This is why I see the need to continue to make abilities visible.

”Umagiliya supports König’s view: “In my opinion it is us who are limiting them and also ourselves, because we ignore their actual potential and our possibilities to benefit from each other. We have too many prejudges and fears. This is what has to be changed in Sri Lanka: we have to break with stereotypes and start to get engage with the individual behind.”

Marambio, who joins the choreographers to address people´s doubts and needs in a workshop, emphasises: “We want to turn challenges for people with disabilities into opportunities in Sri Lanka. However, we strongly believe in the approach that nothing should be done without but with them. Change towards equal participation and equal opportunities rely on all sides of society, including them. This is why empowerment is the key in this process.”

 

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