We have been busy during the Autumn with a number of different awareness raising events in Liege and elsewhere.
The first event was hosted at the VIEWS offices and was a session for new volunteers, to give them more information and a better understanding of visual impairment. The volunteers learned about different types of vision impairments and had the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts from Theo and Elin, two visually impaired VIEWS volunteers. They also had the opportunity to trial using different mobility aids for themselves. The group was put into pares and while one was blindfolded and taught to use a white cane to navigate, the other acted as the sighted guide. It was a successful and enjoyable session, with many of the volunteers stating that they learned a great deal and that they found the session very interesting.
The second was an awareness raising session held at a local retirement home for some of the residents. The manager of the home requested the session to help the residents understand the needs and limitations of some of their peers who are visually impaired. It was the first session that Elin and Elisa, two of our EVS volunteers, helped to run and coordinate. Together with Tamara the girls presented information about different types of visual impairment, shared some of their own personal experiences and lead the group in an activity where the residents were asked to try to make a cup of coffee while blindfolded. This activity highlighted some of the difficulties that visually impaired people might have to accomplish simple daily tasks, and made the residents more sympathetic toward their fellow residents who might have limited vision.
The third events VIEWS participated in was the Extraordinary Film Festival held in Namur. This festival presents artistic work created within the theme of disability and prides itself on being an entirely accessible film festival, including audio description for blind people, sign language for hard of hearing persons and wheelchair accessible venues. Tamara and Elin travelled to Namur on Friday 10th November to present awareness raising activities about visual impairment for the audience at the film festival. During breaks between the films, the audience had the opportunity to visit Elin and Tamara’s table to learn more about VIEWS and about visual impairment through activities such as correctly identifying objects while blindfolded, trying to complete tactile puzzles and receiving information about white canes and guide dogs. It was a successful day for the girls who were able to talk to a number of different people and educate them about the limitations and capabilities of visually impaired people.
Read on to find out more about the Extraordinary Film Festival in our interview with Cedric Defleur, the organiser of the festival.
Dinner in the dark
On Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd December 2017, VIEWS hosted two dinner’s in the dark. The concept of a ‘Dinner in the Dark’ is that fully sighted diners must try to eat their meal in a completely blacked out room . thereby giving them a small insight into what it might be like to be blind. The evenings are usually chaotic and lots of fun, as well as being an eye-opening experience for many.
We hosted our dinners at IRHOV, the local school for blind and deaf children in Liege, where the staff and students of the school helped prepare the meals for our guests. One of the classrooms was transformed into a dining room, of course ensuring that all windows were covered and all light was prevented from entering the room in preparation for the events. In addition, a tactile pathway was created on the floor on the dining room, to help guide guests and servers alike to navigate the room in total darkness. Speaking of servers, the guests were attended to by visually impaired VIEWS volunteers both evenings. The servers were responsible for guiding their guests to their tables, collecting their drinks from the bar and generally educating them about the realities of being a visually impaired person.
Our guests enjoyed a three course meal including quiche and salad to start, meat with vegetables for main and tiramisu for desert. Both evenings were a great success, but most definitely could not have been possible without the invaluable help of all our fantastic volunteers. They helped prepare the venue and food, serve the meals and clean up afterwards, so of course a very big thank you must go to them for making these evenings possible.
We will be hosting further dinner in the dark events in 2018 and we can only hope that they will be as successful and as much fun as these most recent ones.
Extraordinary Film Festival : interview with Cedric Defleur
My name is Cédric Defleur, I was born in Belgium and I was born visually impaired due to four different conditions; cataract, myopia, glaucoma and aniridia. I am 36 years old and I live alone in an apartment in Namur, Belgium. I am a director for the EOP association, which organizes the international film festival about disabilities where I am the person in charge of the animations, concerts and spectacles. Before that, I studied in specialized education where I learned gardening; Then I did training in animation, energy and environment. Afterwards I studied education. When I’m not busy organizing the festival, I do magic and awareness raising about visual impairment.
The Extraordinary Film festival” Is organise by the non-profit organisation EOP which was created by Luc Boland. He is a Belgian film director who’s 18 year old son Lou was born with a disability. When Lou was born his father (Luc) decided to make a documentary film about him which was shown all around the world; that’s how Luc was invited to different film festivals around the world and that’s what inspired him to create the festival here in Belgium. It was during an awareness campaign in a school that I met Luc when he told me about his festival project and he offered me the opportunity to participate. At first, I was a simple volunteer who did small tasks and then gradually, Luc gave me more responsibilities in the festival. That’s how I first became responsible for animation and then I joined the board. As an animation director, my job is to look for artists with or without disabilities or associations related to disability who agree to come to the festival to entertain or raise awareness for our festival-goers between screenings; And as a director, my job is to ensure the smooth functioning of the organization and that the initial objectives are respected.
The objective of the festival is not to glorify disability, but rather on the one hand is to raise awareness of disability with the general public and also to encourage the audio-visual world to recognise or highlight disabled people and invite the institutional and disability community to to reflect and be informed about different practices. One of our objectives is to also ensure total accessibility of the festival to all people with disabilities through subtitling and audio description, … And that films on the subject that are made around the world, whether short, long, documentary, fiction, are recognized or broadcast on TV channels and in the cinema.
We have several objectives such as the accessibility of the festival to different disabilities, the awareness of the general public, the involvement of the audio-visual world and associations in the field of disability and the awareness of the political world of the difficulties encountered (human and financial means, infrastructure and inclusion). In terms of accessibility, we are proud to be the first film festival in Belgium to be accessible to all disabled people. We try to improve every year by taking into account the feedback and do better the following editions. When it comes to raising public awareness, we are satisfied with this fourth edition which has brought us 20% of the public compared to the 2015 edition, so that this year we have reached the number of 6000 spectators out of the four festival days. In relation to the audio-visual sector and the non-profit sector to bring them to see the 44 films of the selection of this fourth edition, we organized two round tables, one of which was on “filming disability ” and the other “was called image, communication and disability”, both of which have been very successful. In terms of the political level, we realize that it is very difficult to involve the politicians and that there is still a lot of work to do with them because the viability of our project depends on their funding that they can’t easily unlock.
My favorite moment during the festival is when I welcome artists and associations, I see that together we work for a good cause. And I love the festival time because we meet many people and despite the language barrier, there emerges a strong family atmosphere, tolerance, and respect for each other. The festival itself is the moment that I prefer because it is the culmination of every two years of preparation.
However, it’s always the time before a festival which is difficult, because we never know if we will have enough funding to produce the festival because of all the arrangements and adaptations, as well as the costs to bring the films and the creators is a lot. For this edition, we did not have enough funding so we had to launch a call for donations to the population, which was a great success and we added more than 18,000 euros in addition to our fund to organize the festival. Personally, in my function what is difficult is the search for disabled artists because these people usually do not dare to present their work to the public even though they are full of talents. I remain convinced that there is always a way to make things possible, it’s just a matter of providing the environment and encouragement for these talented people to flourish.
As a magician artist and disabled person, the project of the festival fits in my values because it allows me on the one hand to raise awareness of disability and to present a point of view of disability through films with a team that has the same point of view as me; On the other hand, I can bring my experience as an artist in order to showcase other artists who are sometimes misunderstood. The festival allows me to accomplish my artistic hobby but also my values and my point of view.
As after each addition, we were sad that this year’s festival is over because we never know if there will be a next edition, but I am still satisfied with the work we have provided and to have been able to produce the festival, just as the fact to have allowed artists or associations to show their work. I am also pleased with the success of this fourth edition and the evolution we are taking with each edition of the festival.
I of course remain hopeful to participate in similar projects in the future. Whether in Belgium or abroad, I think it’s important to learn from the experiences of others and their cultures. I like to discover, explore, try and exchange because it allows you to grow. My dream would be to be able to create a foundation or association to promote artists with disabilities and to travel abroad to discover and inspire me.