Manel Martí, director of the Association Discapacitat Visual Catalunya B1+B2+B3

“Education in respect for and knowledge of disabilities is necessary for everyone, starting with children”

After close to two decades fighting to improve the quality of life of people with disability, Manel Martí recognises the major advances of recent years but is reluctant to let down his guard. “If every child knew what disability means and visited our Museum of the Senses, the progress would be incredible. In the future, these children will be designers, public servants, business executives…”. He considers it as a matter of respect for diversity.

Q.- How important are inclusive design and accessibility in communication?

A.- The more barriers we eliminate, the more we facilitate life for blind or partially-sighted people. Incorporating tactile guidance paving and tactile or audio information is even better. Statistics say 80% of information reaching humans is visual: imagine everything we have to substitute with our other senses! That’s why we support any project involving training and advice: we want to change society’s philosophy, break down mental barriers and alter people’s mindset.

Q.- What’s your assessment of the situation in Catalonia and specifically in Barcelona?

A.- I’ve travelled considerably and, at least with the city of Barcelona, there’s no comparison. Many theatres, opera houses and museums are adapted and accessible. Cinemas are lagging behind a little, but there’s spoken information at pedestrian crossings, on buses and the Metro. We continue making mistakes – leaflets with small print, or Passeig de Gràcia, where blind people don’t know whether we are on the pavement or the road – and we have been urging the City Council to introduce new street signage for some time… But in recent years have seen major advances, albeit more slowly than we want. We are fairly pleased with the new accessibility law. It is very generalist and will require thorough regulatory development, but we are pleased.

Q.- What role do the media and advertising play here? As people with disability do you see yourselves represented?

A.-. Right now we are in the midst of this change of mindset whirl: the media’s role is essential. We’re aiming to make people’s lives easier and design must serve to gradually introduce concepts, awareness-raising, etc. The audio on TV3 saying “this film is audio-described for blind people”, for example, has had a colossal effect. It meant a revolution in helping people understand what audio description is.

Q.- Are companies aware of the opportunities represented by accessibility and inclusive design?

A.- Fifty years ago,  people with disability were hidden away at home. Even today, in the world of work the statistics remain staggering: 95% of mentally ill and 60-70% of physically disabled people are registered unemployed. Companies are neither aware of these people’s capabilities nor of the tax and economic benefits in hiring them. The fight continues and much remains to be done if we’re to be taken into account as customers. On a public level there’s improvement, but on a private level, bar very few exceptions, people remain unaware of the reality.

Q.- What’s needed to advance towards a new social model of diversity?

A.- Firstly, education for all would improve coexistence. All children should have basic awareness by the time they complete primary school and broader knowledge by the time they complete secondary education: they should know what a mental disability is, how to accompany a blind person… Without prejudices or stigmas. We need to explain to kids that the world contains all kinds of people: different sexes, skin colours, faiths and capabilities. Achieving a society where respect for all is the norm will take centuries, but it has been proven that, given opportunities, disabled people will take advantage of them. University is an example, although job market integration is lacking.

Q.- How far are the different actors intervening co-responsible?

A.- The authorities must pass laws then enforce them; this doesn’t happen with the LISMI (Law for the Social Integration of the Disabled) or websites. Designers must see that changing mindsets is possible and positive. Companies must be better informed and, above all, education is necessary. If the Catalan Government approved our proposal to the Ministry of Education, for all children to learn about disability and visit our Museum of the Senses, then progress would be colossal. Because one day these kids will be designers, public servants, business owners, et cetera.

Image: “Tell me how I can help” 2012, Sonia Ciriza and Miguel Ayesa. Sketchbook Project 2012, a  collective art project organized by the Brooklyn Art House Co-op .

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