Aleksey Golubev, Special View's live broadcasts host in VKontakte social network interviews Xenia Dmitriyeva, head of the Special View Program, in his studio. Xenia tells about a writing contest and an app for automatic audio description of movies, about the program's grants and special projects completed in the expiring year, and shares Special View's plans for the future.
We are offering our readers the transcription of this interview.
Xenia, my first question. I've been watching the development of the program for a year, and in my opinion, pretty much is happening within its framework. What are your emotions at the end of the year? Has everything been done?
I've been watching much of it from a distance, same as you, because I was on my maternity leave, I'm not going to keep this secret. I have an incredible deputy, Vladimir Plekhov, who now carries on with his work.
I can say that I'm coming back with much enthusiasm about the future, because so much was done, even more than we'd planned. We had special projects that we couldn't have even imagined the previous year, but nevertheless they became a natural continuation of our activities. We realized that we just had to do them.
What were the biggest and most important projects, the ones you would like to speak about first of all?
You know, I'd like to talk not just about our projects, but about our activities in general. Let me explain. We have major-scale projects which are carried out using the foundation money. Actually, the principal goal of any charity foundation, any charity organization is to make itself superfluous. It seems absurd, but it is true: we want the system to run smoothly without our assistance.
This year we have advanced in many of our dialogs with the authorities. We can see a very good, positive tendency. We fulfilled a special project in partnership with Russia's Ministry of Culture: Special View at the Golden Ring. This project is aimed at accessibility of architectural objects along our most popular tourist routes. We had launched it the year before. It is a very important base for the availability of all the culture in general to build upon.
We understand that the government cannot change things every second or very swiftly, extend the budget for tactile models, services and objects we are proposing while working with this nosology. Nevertheless, they can introduce some changes. For example, this year one of the national programs introduced the opportunity for city and regional theaters to spend grants not only on main expenditure items specified previously, but, for instance, on buying audio description equipment.
It might not be a big sum for a theater, but it gives them the opportunity to adapt performances, which is important for visually challenged guests. We realize that even such a small change as the introduction of a new option for spending a grant is a significant achievement.
Time will tell how this is going to work. At present, we are waiting for these theaters to be monitored, to see which of them actually bought the equipment, because this is not an obligation, but an option. The theater itself decides whether to purchase the equipment or not. This is what I can say about accessibility.
Also, certain instructions influencing audio description in movies and the work of producers were created. All this is not fully standardized by our government. We cannot make producers do this and that, consult such and such specialists. But together with the Department of Cinema we developed an instruction which states, for example, that one should address certified specialists to prepare an audio description.
Are you talking about movie producers?
Movie producers, yes. The films supported by the Ministry of Culture and the Cinema Fund, must provide audio description together with the completed film for storage in State Cinema Archive (Gosfilmofond). Since 2017, providing the audio description in such cases is obligatory, but when someone actually supplemented their film with audio description, it was a surprise in the community of certified audio description specialists. The audio descriptions were often prepared by some unheard-of and unskilled persons. Such audio descriptions only spoil the film and the director's work, instead of adding value to it.
But now producers call to find out if such specialists have corresponding certificates, and hire only those who actually have them. Through such small changes we see the major evolution in the big scheme of things.
Our goal is to trigger processes that would influence the system itself – in all our lines of work.
You spoke about cinema, but you also have a grants competition for theaters. I'm not asking about the numbers, let's not bore our audience with them, but maybe you can tell us about the geography. Which theaters can get audio description?
Any theater at all can get our grants. We have vast coverage. Here, by the way, I'm ready to speak about numbers. 24 new theaters and 38 old ones have received our grants.
Again, we can see a problem here: theaters may receive a grant or audio description equipment, but what next? They stop any activity regarding this if they lose initiative to seek more financing in this sphere, and they don't have money in their own budget for such expenditures. For this reason, we have two types of competitions: Start and Continuation.
Of course, we are going to develop this line. At the beginning of the year we a planning to hold a grants competition, so I'm addressing the theaters that are watching us now: we are inviting you to take part in the contests. By the summer, we will select the winners, and during the summer you will get your grants to put them into action in the coming season.
Let's go back to the cinema. Recently Special View presented an app for automatic audio description for the movies. Tell us about this project: are you going to develop it further, and what are you planning next?
Yes, the app might be one of my favorite projects this year. It fully satisfies the requirements of our target audience: now one may carry audio description in one's pocket, in one's smart phone.
This project is carried out by an expert team including sightless specialists. One of the key persons in our team is Pavel Obiukh. I never tire of admiring this person. He is sightless, he has four university degrees, he is the author of major projects in Moscow that are still functioning even without his participation. He is our assemblage point: Pavel gathers together and evaluates these audio descriptions, and gives instructions to our IT team.
Doubtlessly, there is the task of updating the app, because any IT product is a living thing, it is constantly being tested, new features are being added in. I won't elaborate on the new features, let the users find out themselves when they get them.
Perhaps, our viewers want some extra features and are ready to tell us about them. Of course, we will review such requests. We do have points of growth here.
At the moment, we have agreements with Gosfilmofond and a number of production and distribution companies like Central Partnership, that they should direct audio descriptions to us. These are audio descriptions for Russian films created with the support of the Ministry of Culture.
If we launch a special project with Gosfilmofond or another organization, then there will be more audio descriptions, but it is still too early to say.
The database of movies in the app will grow. We decided to update it the moment we get new audio descriptions, so follow our social networks, we are always telling about new films to allow you to watch something fresh.
Another Special View initiative this year was the writing contest for sightless authors. What is your opinion of its results?
I'm quite happy with them, because I was a bit skeptical about the literary component. Being a social sphere worker, I regarded it as an additional component of the contest. But the partners and participants of the project, and the team of the foundation saw the perspective of making it a literary contest, and they gave people the chance to speak their mind artistically on many various topics.
People from 55 Russian regions took part in this project, there were 259 applications, if I'm not mistaken. People sent us books up to 60 pages in length, big novellas and collections of poems. Our contest judges managed to engage writers Sergey Lukyanenko and Yevgeny Vodolazkin in the project, and invited other workers of culture, and this shows that it was a high-quality contest. Last week one of the winners came to our foundation. He won a Braille display but he couldn't make it to the awarding ceremony in the government. It was such a pleasure to meet him! When we talked I understood that this person was writing absolutely professionally, constantly polishing up his text, constantly coming back to it.
I think this is very important, because with today's rhythm of life not many people are so deeply immersed into a creative process. Not many ignore this constant race. Most people's priority is to publish and sell, to write a piece as fast as possible. And this person, a Vladivostok citizen, wrote an epic novella. He lost his eyesight as an adult, at 29, and I think this is a unique life story, because after losing his eyesight he learned Braille and trained to use a Braille display, which is quite rare.
One sees the urgent need people have in Braille displays, so I note many positive things about this contest. Nevertheless, we realize that this competition, high-level though it may be, is just a stepping stone. Our real task is much more global.
Audio description: a colored photo. Xenia Dmitriyeva is sitting on a pale couch. She has high forehead, shoulder-length straight light-brown hair. She is wearing a pale-blue blouse and a dark-blue trouser suite with thin white stripes. Xenia is looking into the distance and smiling. On the couch beside her, there is an open laptop, behind her there is a white asymmetric bookcase.
Can you name some of most popular topics among sightless writers?
At the contest, we had three types of literature: poetry, prose and drama. Contestants mostly sent us prose and poetry. There were so many poems. Speaking about the topics, we gave people several options, but mostly they wrote about their native country, about their birthplace, their childhood. There were some very interesting details. Here I'm reminded of early short stories by Tatyana Tolstaya about her childhood, Sitting On A Golden Porch, of Shmelyov, he had a big novel about childhood. There were a lot of such short stories, novels and poems.
Are you going to hold similar competitions in the future?
We are planning to, so follow our website and join us on social networks. We are still not sure about the nominations and the format of the contest, because we have several suggestions. For example, I'll cite the opinion of Mr. Bukhtiyarov. He is the sightless editor of Our Life magazine which is published on special cards for adapted flash players and distributed in Russian regions. Aged sightless people use such players because they were not able to get comfortable with a smartphone and never learned to read Braille. So they listen to Our Life. Mr. Bukhtiyarov says that it would be nice to introduce such a genre as journalism in the contest, then there will be plenty of stories. We will consider his suggestion.
You mentioned the prizes for the contest winners, but some of our viewers might not know about them, so maybe you will elaborate on the winners' reward?
Our winners got an honorary diploma signed by Tatyana Golikova, deputy Prime Minister, and our Director, Fatima Mukhomedzhan. And also they received Braille displays. Such a device costs 340,000 rubles at the moment and is not distributed to the sightless as a technical means for rehabilitation. I mean, it is, but with one nuance: only to children under eighteen.
Do you think it is possible that one day Braille displays will be issued for free not only to children?
I believe it is, and we will do our best to make this happen. Now, looking ahead a little, we are planning a project that must help calculate the actual number of the visually disabled people who read Braille and truly need such a display.
We do understand that handing them out to everyone is not reasonable. This is why Ministry of Finance is always sending back the requests and proposals to just enter the displays into the classification as a technical means for rehabilitation. That would mean a colossal budget, including the money for other technical means which are much more important for the people. Giving such devices to everyone is not possible yet, but we can do it for a selection of sightless people. We will just need to properly prepare this selection, design a system of evaluation which will suit our government. Then I think there will be a chance.
Then let's follow the topic of culture: there is another contest of creating tactile models for museums. Can you tell us about it? How many museums did you manage to support, will this project continue?
We are organizing the tactile model contest for the second time. All in all, this year we provided tactile copies to 10 new museums. As opposed to other grants competitions, I mean compared to other foundations, we chose our own method. We do not give out money to create the models, but instead we are working with a certain studio, which, to our mind, makes quality items.
You mean Olga and Mikhail Shu's tactile models workshop?
This is not the only studio we can recommend. There is Yulia Andriyevich's studio, a few others. But for us, Olga and Mikhail Shu's workshop is the optimum partner, because all of our recipients always appreciate their works. This year we supported 10 museums, and are planning to assist another 15 within the framework of the contest that is being held right now. By January 19 we are planning to name the winners.
Are you saying that all through 2023 museums will be receiving tactile models?
Yes, during the year 2023 that is coming nearer day by day, tactile models will be created according to the results of the contest that is in progress at the moment.
Are you planning any other grants competitions in the year to come? Can you tell us about them?
Except those I've already elaborated on, the rest of our activity will be focused on special projects. We will carry on working with circuses, but this is a special project, because they have another type of organizational structure. We will carry on working with ethnic theaters. We know that in 2022, they created the Association of Ethnic Theaters comprising 21 Russian theaters, if I'm not mistaken, and we are signing an agreement directly with them that they undertake to adapt some of the Association's theaters for the visually disabled.
You mentioned circuses. Which circuses have the accessibility program at the moment?
This project is our collaboration with The Russian State Circus Company, and for now, we've selected five cities. It is St. Petersburg, Nizhny Tagil, and three more I can't list you right now, they escape my mind. But the most crucial thing here is that The Russian State Circus Company is adapting a program and then brings it to all the circuses in the country, so this initiative has broad perspectives. It's not just that we are adapting five circuses in five different cities, but most importantly, other circuses will see it, too.
At the beginning of this interview you mentioned the Golden Ring and Special View at Golden Ring project. We've been talking a lot about it with Vladimir Plekhov, in great detail, it was very interesting. Are you planning to expand this project to other Russian regions?
We are. We understand that we haven't covered all the cities of the Golden Ring yet, because there is the so-called small Golden Ring, and the broader one. All in all, of course, we understand that Russia is rich in fascinating architecture which should become accessible for people with disabilities.
But we would like this to be not only our foundation's business, because we see great potential here, this is good presentation of our country for foreign tourists, for instance. This is done not solely for the sightless, because children, too, like tactile models very much. Persons in wheelchairs. Our tactile models are always installed at a convenient level to allow people in wheelchairs to study them. Our foundation is working towards making architectural objects under reconstruction according to national programs allot a certain portion of their budget to purchase such models.
We believe that tactile models are pieces of art in themselves, not mere replicas.
Is there any feedback from the people, whether sightless or not? Do they share their impressions with you? Is there any reaction?
Of course, there is, because families of sightless children and sightless couples won't go to places with no tactile models. It is they who give us feedback that previously these objects were in fact inaccessible for the sightless, but now they can touch these models, learn something new and imagine the objects at an absolutely different level.
The adapting of architectural pieces and making them available for tactile examination is a sore topic for sightless people. We got feedback from schoolchildren who came to our first exhibition dedicated to this subject. It was our project in partnership with A.V. Shchusev Museum of Architecture. We adapted some pieces of Art Nouveau architecture. People who have never seen buildings make a lot of discoveries when they realize that architecture and decor may be so diverse.
Let's hope this cool project develops further. Another line of your work is Special View Forum Festival of Socially-Oriented Theater. The next festival will take place in the Ural region, in the city of Yekaterinburg. Why there? What made you select this particular city? How will this festival differ from the previous ones?
I think I should remind our audience that the forum festival is held every year, but once in two years it has the national scale, when we receive applications from all over the country and invite participants from all Russian regions. And in the interim years it has regional scale.
We already held the festival in Kazan, and thus we covered Volga Federal District. Now we have selected Ural Federal District, namely Yekaterinburg.
What is the peculiarity of the regional festival? It helps us get to know the community living in the chosen region. When we organize the national-scale festival, sometimes we do not have the opportunity to engage so many participants from every individual federal district. But during the regional stage we must go deeper, see the people who are promoting this cause. Maybe inspire them a bit, because many people come to us to see the educational program, to learn about social management, find out how a stage director or a choreographer should work with the disabled and so on.
For our festival, we always select the city which already has strong community of people who understand our cause and carry out projects in this sphere, because we need some foundation for our work. Building a house amidst a field is much harder than in a town.
Yekaterinburg has a wonderful Yeltsin Center, I mean wonderful as regards accessibility, very convenient from the point of view of infrastructure and the level of personnel training, because they carry out a lot of inclusive projects, they are giving this topic a lot of thought, they have great producers, including persons promoting socially-oriented theater.
Audio description: a colored group photo. People in smart clothes are standing in a spacious foyer in front of a banner with Art, Science And Sport Charity Foundation and the Special View logos. Left to right: Valeria Satler, the program's manager, Vladimir Plekhov, deputy head of the program, Fatima Mukhomedzhan, the director of the foundation, Irina Bezrukova, the actress, and Xenia Dmitriyeva. All are smiling.
As for Yekaterinburg forum-festival, am I right in assuming that only local theaters representatives can apply? Or do you admit participants from other regions, too?
No, only residents of this particular federal district. Those from other regions will need to wait for the national-scale festival or for us to hold one in their own region.
Xenia, all this year we were talking a lot about various abilitation programs organized by the Special View. Can you sum up this line of you activity? How many people trained at your courses, what kind of courses these were?
We have practical seminars for people with disabilities and parents of disabled children. They are practical courses of computer studies, Mobile Helper, cooking courses, wayfinding and mobility training, also we have consultations for families, Special Parents School.
At the moment, most popular among them are computer studies and wayfinding and mobility courses.
For me, the additional value of our courses lies in the fact that all of our computer studies teachers, more than 20 people at the moment, are sightless NVDA-certified people, and they all teach online, each time working again on the educational track their student is going to peruse. This is completely individual approach.
We haven't collected all the feedback, but as for major results of the previous year, I can see that our recipients were able to capitalize on their new skills. For example, we had a person who studied Zoom and afterwards was able to make his own webinars, which had been impossible for him without such a simple, but essential skill.
We see that many of our participants come back again for more of our courses, and they are using much of what they've learned in their work and in their truly effective everyday life.
Sometimes we even get requests from people who wish to study some simple programming, so our sightless students are moving forward even in this sphere.
As for abilitation, namely wayfinding and mobility, this is indeed an essential thing for every sightless person. I think we cannot imagine ourselves without the ability to move around independently. Every sightless person must learn to use the white cane. Unfortunately, many people graduate from school without this skill. This is the problem of education standards, certifications and regulations, because there is no such education system that would make a person fully independent and competitive.
For us, quality is much more important than quantity. This year we trained 1,100 people. This seems to be not much compared to the total of 300,000 visually disabled persons in Russia, but, firstly, these are people who come to us fully consciously, because they have no other options. Secondly, we are still working within the limits of our own budget, but I'd say that we are aimed at making such courses available not only within our program.
Following this, I would like to ask two more questions for the sake of clarity. I think many of our viewers are concerned about them. So my first question is, will these courses continue? And the second one, are you going to launch any new courses?
These courses are sure to go on, because they proved to be in high demand. As for new courses, at the moment we cannot say, but if there is such a necessity, I think that we will consider such a possibility.
I'm sure we will have on-line consultations from Marta Lyubimova, she seems to be quite popular in our community. We want to give more people the chance to talk to this expert personally, so undoubtedly, there will be the opportunity to address her and sign in for other courses.
But, by the way, I'd like to add that every year we are training a number of specialists in wayfinding and mobility, and in cooking, and in other programs. We do it professionally, so for our students this is professional reskilling.
This year we trained several specialists in the Rehacomp institute, based on the programs developed together with our experts. If you are watching this broadcast and thinking that such training would suit you perfectly, if you have a teacher's degree or an audio description specialist’s certificate, then follow our news, because such experts and specialists who are ready to work in the field directly and help each sightless person individually, are rare. It is a very difficult social work. I would like to thank these people, our instructors, because you are doing and incredible job. A person is carrying a 23 kg suitcase to teach at a workshop somewhere in another region – it is huge labor, it can be compared to the work of a doctor. This is social work.
If you would like to take part in this work, you may file in an application form, we will collect them. When we are going to train our teachers, we will know whom to contact. We need such people very much.
Xenia, can you name a special project or a big-scale project that your program supported in the year coming to an end?
This year we had this new project, The Accessible Cinema. This is a national project carried out in partnership with the Ministry of Culture. Together with the ministry, we organized a contest, collected applications, it was a kind of a little survey, because we learned that half of 96 movie theaters have audio description equipment, but only one of them runs shows with audio description.
This happens because they don't know how to work with such viewers, don't understand why this is so important. They fulfill the official requirement, because they do have the equipment, but they do not actually use it.
Within the framework of this project we held training courses in 3 cities for the movie theaters employees, taught them how to communicate with the disabled, what social understanding of disability is about, how to provide services to and assist such people, what is the correct way to invite them. We gave the cinema theaters the instruments to help them cooperate with their regional communities who work with such nosology and with other ones, too.
We are planning to expand this project, because we understand that even just with the new app, more movie theaters are able to run shows for this category of citizens, not only by using their audio description equipment, but also by distributing smart phones or helping to download our app.
We are planning to carry on with this project and to launch it in another five regions in the coming year.
Xenia, in addition to the projects you have mentioned, can you name any other new initiatives, including media projects?
Thank you very much for the question, right to the point. To my mind, the Special View portal is not just an instrument for filing in applications, but a huge journalistic work. I always point out that in addition to sighted authors we have sightless ones. They are experts in their relative fields and they write for us as experts.
This year we launched a number of media projects. Now we have you and this podcast. For us, it is a new way to present information. Sometimes to me it seems more alive. It was so interesting to see our heroes, there were 30 of them, if I'm not mistaken.
Thirty people this year. I think in the future there will be more and more of them. I won't reveal our plans for development yet, but we have certain ideas.
Also, we now have our own Zen page where we are carrying out the project entitled 100 Questions To A Sightless Person. There we are also going deeper, because sometimes we are not ready to answer every question in great detail in an article. But there we are working hard on every question addressed to us, and giving our answers on this Zen page, so sign up, send us your questions, become our experts and authors, we are always open to new proposals, ideas and people.
Speaking about the coming year, you've already said much, but I can't but ask, do you have any more plans? Can you share with us what the coming year holds in stock?
We have big plans, I will not go into detail, but we are planning a project in employment assistance for the disabled. We are now negotiating with regions and choosing the one that is going to pilot this project in partnership with us.
Maybe some other new partnerships? Or events?
We'll sure have them. We will continue all the lines of work we already have: adaptation of the cultural environment, working with museums, theaters, circuses and movie theaters. We are planning to issue more manual guides, because we realize that there are precious few of them in our sphere. There are so few manuals written in understandable language and intended for the institutions that would like to develop the accessibility aspect.
By the way, last year we published a manual guide for museums and this year we are distributing it. It is focused on totally blind persons and thus is vastly different from a guide concerning the visually impaired, for instance. There is a lack of such manual guides, and we also have plans to work in this direction, too.
Plus, the abilitation, our special projects, the forum festival, the Accessible Cinema, and this year we also supported Diana Gurtskaya's White Cane festival. I think we will continue to cooperate with this sightless singer along this line, because her festival is also a very special event which shows the unique ways to engage disabled people in creative industries.