The City Of Opportunities: How To Become A Blogger And Join An Inclusive Blog Tour

Audio description: a colored photo. Bloggers Olga Lifanova, Alexey Trantsev and Darya Suloyeva are standing in front of a light-green wall. Olga has her long dark-brown hair in dreadlocks, she has an oval face with expressive features, and her eyes are unfocused. Alexey has thick dark hair, an oval face with regular features, he is half-smiling. He has no right hand, and an artificial left one. Darya is wearing black-rimmed eyeglasses. She has a bob cut, her round face has gentle features. All three of them are wearing identical black T-shirts with white messages on their chests. Olga's T-shirt reads, "We cannot impress you with the wisdom of our eyes", Alexey's T-shirt says, "Or skillful gestures of our hands", and Darya's T-shirt reads, "We don't need any of it to understand each other".

Vladimir Vaskevich, Special View portal correspondent, interviews an inclusive team of bloggers from Samara who created a project for training bloggers with disabilities. They tell about how to join their community, present oneself on the Internet with no fear and join an inclusive blog tour to Sochi.

An Inclusive Blog Which Became a Large-Scale Project

An inclusive blog created by a whole team of people both with disabilities and without them is a rare phenomenon. We are talking not about a non-profit organization or a charity foundation, but about a group of people working together and keeping their blog not for pay, but in the name of a common idea: to promote inclusion as a positive trend and position disability as a potential resource for new achievements.

One of such blogs is Smotriteli Bez Konechnosti (Limbless Overseers). The team comprises three bloggers, Olga Lifanova, Alexey Trantsev and Darya Suloyeva. Only Olga and Alexey have disabilities. According to Darya, before the project was created, all of the team members had had their own social network pages.

“Alexey Trantsev successfully works for a non-commercial social institution as an SMM director, Olga develops an account of her own massage studio, and I’m telling about the development of my small hairdressing business. Mind that Alexey and Olga have group I disabilities, and I don’t, but each of us is working pretty successfully”, she says.

A couple of years ago, the bloggers joined up to speak about disabilities with a bit of humor and present the real possibilities of visually impaired persons like Olga and those with no hands like Alexey.

“At first, people felt uneasy with self-irony in our posts. After all, our world is not accustomed to a blind person saying, ’I don’t see a problem here’, or a person with no hands telling leaders of non-commercial organizations how they should inspire their staff but at the same time keep a strict hand over the whole work process. But in time, the number of our subscribers and the amount of grateful feedback began to grow, and that gave us more and more inspiration”, says Olga Lifanova, the sightless blogger.

Audio description: a colored photo. Darya, Olga and Alexey are singing into a microphone by a brown wall. Darya is wearing a brown blouse, Olga — a red checkered shirt and Alexey — a grey jacket over a blue T-shirt.

Before long, the inclusive team began getting more and more invitations to share their experience on social and youth platforms all over the country. A year later, they came to collaborate with Formula Of Good Deeds social investments program organized by Sibur company, and together they began developing The City Of Opportunities project. This is a community of inclusive authors, a training course and a supportive environment for beginners.

“First of all, the project’s priority is to help people with disabilities come out of their shells at least online and learn to speak out, to make other people admire them and feel joy around them, instead of pity or awkwardness. Our second goal is to make inclusion more and more popular on the net, and make cooperative projects like ours more numerous”, Darya Suloyeva shares.

What The City Of Opportunities Can Teach

This title was chosen for the project not by chance. Its founders planned to share innovative knowledge and to create a continuous positive environment where any person could feel being a part of a big and important trend.

“The major component of the project is our community, where everyone who so wishes may study a video course for beginner bloggers, free of charge. Note that this course is useful both for people with disabilities and those without physical impairments. This is an inclusive project, so we do not limit our audience to persons having disabilities. For us, the most important criterion of our participants is their desire to write about inclusion in their own line of work. The next stage of the project is regular webinars where our team and guest experts share lifehacks and interesting blogging tools. We hold them twice a month, and after that our participants complete the tasks they’ve been given at the sessions, thus putting their knowledge into action. Nearly every task is to write a post which helps the participants polish up their skills, and we give them advice when something may be improved,” says Darya Suloyeva.

One may watch the videos and read the articles on blogging even without completing the tasks. For that, you will simply need to join in the City Of Opportunities online community. The project’s organizers recommend their audience to familiarize themselves with videos on developing a personal brand featuring inclusion activists, Alexey Trantsev and Mikhail Chetvertakov, on effective collaborations featuring marketing consultant Yekaterina Nenasheva, and on disability aesthetics with photographer Yulia Otroshchenko.

Audio description: a photo camera screen is shining against black background. It shows the face of a thin young woman wearing a red knitted turtleneck. She is leaning her face onto her fists and looking forward calmly. Her blue eyes are lined with black pencil; she has a wedding ring on her right ring finger.

“The new residents of The City Of Opportunities may take part in regular contests, and win valuable prizes or promotion and expert assistance for their blog. All of them join a working chat with warm and supporting atmosphere. Those deemed best judjing by the results of a year’s work go on an inclusive blog tour. Last year it took place in Moscow, and this year the destination is Sochi,” Darya Suloyeva says. To take part in the project, fill in the following application form.

According to Darya, the supportive environment of the chat is extremely important, so she urges the audience not to hesitate and to sign in as soon as possible.

“The geography of the project is quite extensive and the age of the participants varies a lot, so do the topics that they are covering. Some are speaking about fencing, others about books, still others try to form their personal brands as speakers or try to popularize Go, a strategic board game. The topics, as well as the opportunities, are limitless. The only condition is that the topic must be related to the inclusion, the blog must be kept by an inclusive team or a person with disabilities, and the line developed in it must have inclusive context,” explains Olga Lifanova.

VKontakte social network was chosen as the platform for beginner bloggers. As the organizers say, at the moment, this platform is one of the most popular and accessible ones in our country, meaning, among other things, accessibility for people with visual impairments. For convenience, every post is also published in audio and video formats. Thus everyone gets the opportunity to choose the most convenient way to study the materials of the course.

How Do I Know I Should Start A Blog?

Olga Lifanova believes that before starting a blog, first off, you should define your goal. The goal may gradually change with time, but you should clearly see why you need this.

“Some are selling their readers goods or services, others are trying to instill a certain point of view in their audience, and still others are sharing their observations and wish to discuss their ideas with readers. Some are using their blog as a platform for launching projects, and others organize events for their readers. Anyway, the main goal of practically any blog is to create a loyal audience who is going to read it. What you are going to do with this audience is another question,” says the sightless blogger.

To start with, whether you are creating a separate page for your blog or keeping a personal account, you will need to fill in and design your page. When new persons enter your page, they should clearly understand who and what you are and what value you can bring them. Beginner sightless bloggers shouldn’t neglect the visual component of their materials. At first, you may ask your friends or a professional photographer to help you accumulate the necessary stock of photocontent, and then you should add to it on a regular basis.

“Every sightless blogger should learn at least some basic rules of visual content making, even if they are not planning to take pictures themselves. I myself (despite the fact that I’m sightless since childhood) through constant practice have formed a certain understanding of such common principles: do not take pictures against the sun, wipe the camera lens clean, remember the importance of daylight, as in twilight photos may turn out fuzzy. Moreover, you should be aware of basic colors and the uniform style of your feed, use a variety of angles and objects in your photo sessions, and also take close-ups and distance shots. Even if for you red means nothing but the sweetness of summer strawberries, remember that social network feed may have different color schemes that are used to create covers, fonts and even smileys,” shares Olga.

When creating photo content, she recommends sightless bloggers not to be shy and ask for help. Olga says that in her experience, no one ever refused to help her take a picture, choose most suitable photos or pick the clothes for a photo session.

It is very difficult to make a good shot or create a harmonious feed when you cannot see. To solve this problem, you have two options: find people you can trust or hire a content photographer every time. For her massage studio page, Olga prefers to combine both solutions.

“Pictures made by a professional photographer make the feed look harmonious, position me as an expert in massage. Everyday pics make the feed bright and full of life, and reflect my personality, as a person with proactive approach to life. Sometimes I take pictures of things I cannot see. Even if they turn out not that good, or if I cut off half of someone’s head, my subscribers find it interesting to see what the sightless blogger has captured. Although, one should not do this too often. This is how a well-balanced image is formed,” says the blogger.

Margarita, one of sightless participants in The City Of Opportunities project had given little attention to the visual component of her blog before she started the course. However, having worked with experts, she got down to business quite seriously, and thanks to that, the number of her subscribers has grown more than ten times.

For a blogger, the thing of utmost importance is regularity, as well as systematic posting. According to Darya Suloyeva, at the first stages of your blog development you may ask your sighted friends to give you feedback about your page. Also you may ask them to subscribe and to share your page with their followers.

“In your blog, you may create a system of columns and thus enable your subscribers to watch some aspects of your life in development. Thus, you are getting them hooked on a kind of series. If you are afraid to show your personal life in your blog, this is not a must. Your blog may be topical and tell people only about your hobby, for example, knitting or traveling. But in any case, your page must reflect your individuality and your own style,” Darya recommends.

Accumulating Social Capital

The organizers of the project note that keeping a blog helps the authors structure their thoughts, and bring more order into their life and work. What is more, for a disabled person it is a perfect tool to teach the society the correct ways of communication with physically challenged persons.

“A sightless author may capitalize on their blog through being an expert in some sphere. For example, I do massage for a living, as well as many sightless people. Active blogging in social networks can attract new patients and heighten the interest of the old ones. I repeatedly hear my clients say, ’You know, it’s been two years since my last visit, but lately I’ve read your post and realized I needed to see you at once!’,” Olga Lifanova says.

Another potential capitalization solution for your blog may be advertising sales and collaborations for mutual profit. For this, your blog must have a good number of followers and keep growing actively. But, perhaps, most important capitalization for a sightless blogger is the idea of developing your own social capital.

“The more interested followers you have, the richer you become. And it is not about money, because a blog is an instrument of communication, of getting to know new interesting people. For many sightless persons who rarely leave their homes this is a real opportunity to show themselves and their talents to the world, and if necessary, an author can call their audience for assistance. Our sightless project participants were helped by their own followers in designing their page and making business cards. You are writing a blog, you are working hard, people are reading your posts, care about you and want to take some part in your life, so why not let them? Within due limits, of course,” Olga concludes.

What The Project Has In Stock For The Participants In The Current Year

The project is working continuously for two years, creating new expert videos and developing the supportive environment. As of today, more than 700 people from different regions of the country have taken part in it. Every day inclusive bloggers make new posts, share their achievements with one another, prepare collaborations with famous people and set new goals concerning the number of followers. Starting from March, new participants may join the project.

“In the project’s new season, every newcomer will still have the chance to study our course in full, get the opportunity to contact experienced bloggers and experts via a private online chat room, to practice completing our tasks and win valuable prizes for active participation. Moreover, me and my colleagues are launching a new podcast entitled Mediators (Posredniki), where we will continue to inform our audience about current trends in inclusive blogging and invite new interesting experts,” shares Darya Suloyeva.

During the spring and summer 2023, the project team will travel with their lectures and inspirational workshops to Perm, Kazan, Nizhnekamsk and Tomsk. In November, five most active participants together with experts with disabilities, will go on an inclusive blog tour to Sochi. The tour will be payed for by the organizers. Every day of the tour, the bloggers will meet experts, visit interesting places for making visual content and learn about newshooks for their pages.

“Last year in Moscow, the guys had a writing workshop with a well-known author and stand-up comedian, Olga Savelyeva, and learned about innovative and inclusive spaces in Blagosphere center. They got the chance to feel the inspiring speed of motor racing and learned how to tell their followers with gusto about their night at the legendary Quartet I performance and at the exhibition at Russian Impressionism museum with audio description. This year, too, we will try surprise you once again and prepare an equally impressive program in Sochi. The weather in this seaside city simply must invite success,” Olga Lifanova sums up.