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About accessibility and accomplishments

Sports are games where people consciously limit functions which aim achieving a defined goal. The athletes need to run a couple of hundred meters as fast as they can, but along the way there are hurdlers, which make it notably harder to proceed and which slow down the speed, not to mention the water puddles, which unpleasantly wet the shoes! Or what about the ball which one should move through the field to the goal net but without using the hands – a quite remarkable demand from a group of mammals having hands. In other cases, kicking the ball with the feet is forbidden and instead there are different tools – sticks and pieces of wood – which are used to poke the ball between the goalposts or slopped over the net.

These limitations are so cleverly and intentionally created to make the game more exciting. You could imagine that if the possibilities are some way already limited – for example if one doesn’t have hands nor feet to use – life must be really exciting. Dragging a shopping bag from the supermarket to the tram and to the third floor sitting on a wheelchair wins probably steeplechase hands down.

You wouldn’t probably need to make going to a theatre or museum more exciting by adding extra barriers to the way, but it is not always so simple to go to these places. Obstacles are not always physical hurdlers or staircases; they can also be the rules set for the players – don’t run, don’t touch - or expectations required from the visitors – you have to know how to read and be able to pay the ticket. The game will get even more exciting when the rules aren’t clear for the players and no one tells them in advance – if the players never have been to a museum or don’t even know why bother.

Champions on the playing field

Different sports were practiced in large scale in the summer of 2012 in London. The Olympic games guaranteed that no one faces obstacles when following the course of the champions either from their seat or through the website. The accessibility supply of the games is impressive. I don’t know how everything finally turned out on spot but the strive for accessibility was visible and well-articulated, information about participation and services was abundant. Among other things, in the upper margin of the websites you’ll find up to 10 different options for reading and viewing the website. In Britain they sure have the know-how.

The public museum institutions is established on a notion that everyone should have access to enjoy  top class art. Grasping the term “top class” is much more difficult to define than in sports, but among experts there is some kind of common notion of what a canon of good art is: although its contains has indeed been argued all the time and the whole concept has been questioned several times. However, the museums treasure these masterpieces. The spirit of accessibility expressed in the Olympics applies also to the British arts institutions: they think about different visitors, you can often find good information on the websites and you can get it through different means.

From the auditorium to the playing field

In the 1970s this sharing and spreading of arts were called the democratisation of culture; everybody has to have the right to enjoy good arts. Sport is however something different than spectator sports, and culture also something else than going to museums. Everyone should be allowed to do arts – but not under whatever condition.

If the rules of the game are set beforehand, not everyone wants to join the game. If a blind person wants to play football person without feet wants to play, we need to make new rules. That’s why in the Paralympics they play football of the visually impaired and sitting volleyball and 18 other sport categories, whose rules have been set by the terms of the players instead of choosing players who fit the rules set by others.

Also, in arts people ask for new rules and discussions about who really decides on the canons and values of arts. People started to blame the democratisation of culture as patronizing:  it is unidirectional and top-down, treats people as minors, it signals that people are lacking something, and it decides their needs on their behalf. The resemblance to the medical definition of disability is obvious (it’s something wrong or missing about the person and it needs to be fixed).

Cultural democracy, for its part, emphasises the upbringing of the individual to an acting subject instead of a passive object of education: the rules of real arts cannot be set beforehand. Rules change, and they are constantly negotiated. (To compare with the social definition of disability the issue at stake is the relation between the individual and their surroundings). The everyday life of disabled people, migrants, financially destitute and so forth are is very often based on playing by the rules of others.

Inclusion, not only accessibility, comes with the notion that people are producers, decision makers, makers of rules – not only recipients and consumers. Sometimes it is fun to follow games played by others and sometimes you need to create your own game and demand access to the same stadium. 

Kaija Kaitavuori 2012

English translation by Nardin Crisbi

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