Bebe Vio, an Italian wheelchair fencer and Paralympic champion



After going through the list of suggested resources, I pondered on the meaning of disability, beyond its terminology.  

It’s hard for me to talk about disability without thinking about myself, since a couple of years ago I reported a number of serious injuries in a car crash, and what was a “normal life”, suddenly switched into a quality of life that constantly needs to be “negotiated”. The world was still the same, and once recovered I felt as if I was the same too, but ultimately this was a lie, and when my “new body” begun to inform me about its limits, I was forced to take action using all of my strength, and creativity to adapt to the environment, while avoiding to isolate from the group of my friends, and peers. I never wanted to be seen as different, yet I needed people to acknowledge that I was. I guess, what I feared at that time, it was the loss of my identity.

The dichotomy that refers to disability both in terms of mental/biological impairment, and social constructionism, must be taken under consideration, whereas inclusivity in education, in my opinion, needs to restore the principle of a community, in which differences have to be seen as part of a range of talents and abilities, rather than limits. This is indeed what Christine Sun Kim’s video showed me, she questioned the social constructionism based on the simple assumption that hearing people “own” the sound. Her theory is groundbreaking in my view, and while I was trying to research more about Sun Kim’s work, I’ve come across an interview featured by The Quietus Magazine (https://thequietus.com/articles/21723-christine-sun-kim-interview) in which she states: Deaf people know sound very well. Often people think we don’t – and even the deaf community thinks we don’t know sound very well. It’s strange to be in our position where we almost impose the barrier on ourselves to some degree”.

At High School in Italy I was trained in teaching, back then I dealt with disable children, and there was one boy in particular, that was born blind. During our sessions, I familiarized with his ability of perceiving the light, understanding that a blind person, sometimes can still “see” to some extents. I have never known on the contrary, that a deaf person could actually discriminate between different sounds, and/or visualize them. In my practice as Art Director, Photographer and Editor, I have always been fascinated by Kandinsky’s phono-cromatic theories and Klee‘s writings, and during my Masters course in Applied Imagination at Central St. Martin’s, I design an artifact that merged art therapy, digital art and new technologies. A couple of years ago, while researching on a personal project for the development of a mobile application, I made contacts with the Italian artist and musician, Marco De Biase (http://www.marcodebiasi.info/en/bio-2/), who was affected by dystonia, but had managed to successfully recover after completing a motor rehabilitation program at the “Institute of Physiology and Medicine of Art” in Barcelona. During his rehabilitation Marco investigated the strict relationship between color, movement and ultimately the sound. In 2012 he created a phono-chromatic system, that is currently used by the “National Deaf Institute” in therapy.

Sun Kim’s installation and words have therefore showed me, that the relationship between sounds and colours work both ways, and although this might seem obvious, conceptually speaking, I had no validate proof up to now. This discovery has a phenomenal potential in my view, if applied both to my artistic practice of photographer/art director, and in my present role of teacher. 

This last one in particular, must imply the analysis of the group of students, while considering their abilities/disabilities. Providing equal opportunities for all participants of accessing the educational environment, that has to be equipped under consideration of those people with special needs, so to contribute to the creation of the group’s welfare.

My role of educative facilitator has to be open minded, as well as acknowledged with all special facilities available, in order to engage students, and their attention. Harper and Quay’s state that strategizing ways to increase engagement of various students populations, especially those for whom engagement known to be problematic, is a worthwhile endeavour” (2009). In order to do so, I plan to provide my students a with multi-sensory experience, with the help of technologies, and with extra-scholastic activities such as visiting museums, and so on. I believe it might be interesting to “test” the outer environment to start the debate around disability, asking the students to observe how the urban design has facilitated disable people in their access to buildings, and/or other structures, or on the contrary how it lacks of those attentions, as well as any consideration to creating accessible and enjoyable experiences, when visiting an exhibition for instance. In so doing, I’d like to engage the disable person in the group activities, challenging any forms of creative contribution to the debate. Students might be inspired by the outcome, and feel encouraged to be actively responsible, while considering to include the observation in their assessment projects, and perhaps further develop it within their practice in industry once graduated. Bringing attention to the world of disability, it is important, and that’s what the activist Vilissa Thompson did with the hashtag #DisabilityTooWhite. Her provocative, but absolutely pinpointing idea, hit the core of the matter, and as a result of it, the feedback was a mixture of agreements, and (unfortunately) insulting disagreements. If we could eliminate the rather practical need for provocation, that seems at times the only solution for capturing people’s attention, giving voice to the person who carries a disability, we may as well succeed in breaking the chains of the social constructivism. If the whole group of students/people feel involved in the debate around disability, if the experience of observation becomes a group activity, rather than a marginalized task, perhaps every participant can feel united and equal, shifting the focus from the person to the problem, avoiding any ill consideration that may result racist, or discriminating. The person is still central to the debate, but the disability is seen as a universal problem, that all human being can experience.

On the other hand, in my practice as teacher, I would foster an academic based research, that might involve not only the study of artistic projects done by disable individuals, but an exploration of artworks, in which science is applied to technology too. This might help students to understand what has been already created, and what can be done in the future. But it could also inspire my personal artistic practice, and result in a photographic exhibition or an in-depth article as editor, for instance.

Starting with consideration in regards to the Paralympics, and leading to more experimental ideas, that are shaping the contemporary digital era. For example, the Cyborg Foundation founded by Moon Ribas, and Neil Harbisson (https://www.vice.com/it/article/bnw5nw/neil-harbisson), that aims to help humans become cyborgs, defend cyborg rights and promote cyborg art. Although moral implications of this project may arise, I believe it’s worth showing how a disability can actually be perceived by the person who is affected by, to the point in which it can be seen as a powerful source of opportunities in shaping one’s own identity. 

Neil Harbisson is an artist affected by a disability named Achromatopsia, and concerns a form of colour blindness, that results in seeing in greyscale. By having an antenna implanted in his skull, he is now able to perceive colours through their audible vibration. Mr Harbisson has been officially recognised as a cyborg by a government, and on his website he describes himself as:

“Harbisson identifies himself both as a cyborg; he feels he is technology, and as a transpecies; he no longer feels 100% human. His artwork explores identity, human perception, the connection between sight and sound and the use of artistic expression via new sensory inputs”.

The words written by disability activist and blogger Vilissa Thompson on her final comments to the article about the #DisabilityTooWhite hashtag: “Being open-minded to the realities of others that live and look differently from you as a disabled person is the key takeaway”, come in help offering me the perfect comment to Harbisson’s description, as well as to Christine Sun Kim’s project, defining what inclusivity means to me, and what I feel I can take from the sources provided during this first blog activity, and how I intend to channel them through my teaching/practice in the Industry. The society tents to isolate groups of people, that ideally do not conform to common standards. The implications can be devastating for the person who feels isolated, neglected, set apart and unable to participate. I want to remember and  acknowledge that “normality” is almost impossible to define, and we, as humans, have all special needs, but none of us is compelled to adhere to a given standard, therefore by embracing disability, and include it in the journey through learning, one can begin a reconceptualization of education, maximizing the experience itself, and breaking the boundaries that measure disability only in material terms.

Elena Arzani




Shades of noir  Terms of reference from SoN around Mental Health https://issuu.com/shadesofnoir/docs/mhchtor

UAL Disability Service Webpages  https://www.arts.ac.uk/students/student-services/disability-and-dyslexia

Activist and blogger Vilissa Thompson’s articlehttp://rampyourvoice.com/2016/05/26/disabilitytoowhite-making-good-trouble-advocacy/

Video by Christine Sun Kim:https://vimeo.com/31083172

(Additional Personal research) Interview to Christine Sun Kim: https://thequietus.com/articles/21723-christine-sun-kim-interview

My personal contribution:

Neil Harbisson https://www.vice.com/it/article/bnw5nw/neil-harbisson

Marco De Biasi http://www.marcodebiasi.info/en/bio-2/