Shape have been working closely with British Council Brazil to develop a unique Access Audit and Disability Equality Training (DET) programme for Cultural Centres across São Paulo and Rio, supported by Transform. Following on from a successful visit to over 7 venues in August 2013, Shape Trainers Barbara Lisicki and Zoe Partington were invited back, with Shape Coordinator Fiona Slater, to deliver a series of DET sessions and panel discussions. Fiona shares some reflections from the trip.


Working towards better accessibility

We began DET on Tuesday 25th November at SESC Villa Mariana. SESC (Social Service of Commerce), one of our key partners in this programme, is a private institution established to deliver social welfare programmes across Brazil, with an impressive network of venues promoting high quality art, sport and education. Our training sessions were targeted at Front of House and Customer Service staff from SESC and other partner organisations; Museu de Arte Modern (MAM), Museu da Imagem e do Som (MIS), SP Escola de Teatro, Mais Diferenças, Teatro Sergio Cardoso and The Cultural Secretariat. Participants brought a wealth of experience from the ‘front line’ and would become our ‘multipliers’ – spreading DET key messages to colleagues at their own arts organisations and further afield.

We began with introductions, hopes and aspirations; ‘Where do you come from and what do you hope to gain from this training?’ The room was filled with a mix of apprehension, enthusiasm and curiosity. Whilst some people had firsthand experience of welcoming and working with disabled artists and audiences, others felt ‘ill prepared’ and experienced a fear of embarrassment, of ‘getting it wrong’.

First up, as always, was an introduction to the social model, followed by a discussion around real life customer service scenarios. There was a heavy focus on language and terminology. Can we adapt current trends in Brazil to work more closely the social model? (Currently the term for disabled person in Portuguese is ‘pessoa com deficiência’ which directly translates as ‘person with deficiency’). This led to a deeper discussion about the connotations of terms like carer, personal assistant, companion’. Participants were eager to engage with a free flow of thoughts and suggestions.



Workshop participants working in groups

Group work and discussion in the workshop. Photo: Fiona Slater


What is appropriate?

When devising their own training modules, the groups created activities which they would use to deliver DET modules to their colleagues. A heated debate on the appropriate (or more accurately inappropriate) use of simulating disability in training scenarios followed; using a blindfold to simulate a visual impairment or sticking someone in a wheelchair for a 10 minute turn around the block. Whilst this remains a popular training tool in Brazil (and still crops up in the UK) Shape trainers highlighted the inadequacy of this activity in providing a realistic and accurate representation of a disability which did not enforce negative stereotypes or become farcical. As Barbara pointed out ‘you wouldn’t black up to deliver a session on race discrimination.’

Activities that set out to represent another individual’s lived experience of disability are impossibly simplistic. They tend to focus on one or two ‘tried and tested’ impairments and encourage an approach to access which is based on assumptions, rather than one which responds to an individual’s requirements. Instead of trying to locate the disability within the person taking part in the workshop, the aim is to focus on removing the barriers within society.

It is a complex issue, and one that continuously throws up questions. Shape’s current Adam Reynolds Memorial recipient, Carmen Papalia, conducts eyes closed tours, a series of one-to-one tactile experiences for gallery visitors. So what is the difference? For me, it goes back to the intention and context. Carmen’s tours are, in no way, purporting to represent or simulate visual impairment but are used to highlight a bias towards visual learning. They encourage people to utilise other senses when navigating the world; it is a creative endeavour which is about exploration rather then a training tool which is designed to seek out ‘empathy’. Context and intention are crucial.

Participants did use role play to enact scenarios; the tricky customer who is complaining about someone 'disturbing the peace' by making involuntary movements. Scenarios that enable people to try out methods and responses feel like a more constructive approach, without this strange compulsion to find empathy and understand exactly how another person is feeling.

We were overwhelmed by the level of talent and enthusiasm within the room, and feel confident that our ‘multipliers’ will be shakng things up and making changes within their own organisations.



Image of the training pack

Training pack. Photo: Fiona Slater


Debate and reflection

During the second week Shape chaired a series of panel discussions covering topics which ranged from the representation of disabled people in marketing and press, improving opportunities for disabled artists in venue programming and top-level arts posts to current disability policy and legislation.

The first of these sessions was hosted by Mais Diferenças, an organisation which works with creative accessibility at the core of everything they do and has just opened a beautiful new gallery and office space showcasing work by disabled artists. With a focus on marketing and press we decided to screen the fantastic Stella Young Ted Talk by on ‘inspiration porn’, in which she warns against the perils of falling back on patronising stereotypes of disabled people. This film (which we played a number of times throughout the 2 weeks) became more poignant when we learned of Stella’s untimely death on 6th December 2014. The afternoon culminated in an impromptu performance by Billy Saga, a multi-disciplinary artist and activist, whose rap on the social model completely up-staged us all!



Billy Saga in his wheelchair with interpreter and audience

Billy Saga performing his impromptu rap. Photo Fiona Slater


Sharing reflections on the history of the Disability Arts movement with Barbara Lisicki and Zoe Partington, both prominent activists throughout the 80s and 90s, provided an invaluable reminder of the group of individuals and long journey which has paved the way for some of the fantastic opportunities and programmes we currently have in the UK today. When discussing my experience of working on programmes like the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary and Unlimited, which we deliver in partnership with high profile arts galleries and museums such as the V&A and Southbank Centre, it was great to recognise the importance of our history and unique heritage.

 Whilst overall physical access to galleries and cultural centres in Sao Paulo was excellent and programming for disabled audiences good (MAM have a particularly strong programme for Deaf gallery visitors and recently hosted SENCITY) there is still a distinct lack of high quality programming for disabled artists. But, I think, not for much longer.

 We flew out to Rio on Saturday 5th December, the day disabled people took to the streets to celebrate the International Day of Disabled people (on 3rd Dec). This was to be both a celebration of talent, with performances from artists such as Billy Saga and Marcus Abranches, and a protest about inequality and inaccessibility. A completely different journey, with a different set of individuals driving it forward but the artwork and outcomes are equally spectacular and Shape hope to join them again along the way!


A special thanks to Luiz Coradazzi, Paula Lopez and everyone at British Council São Paulo for making this exchange possible.