Guest Blogger: Jenni-Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen
Jenni-Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen is a textile and conceptual artist and director of the short film “Illusionist’s Visions” which will be shown at the 2017 Show Me Justice Film Festival.
“Take one card, but don’t show it to me,” the magician Ronja Oja said and turned her back. I had trouble focusing on her tricks, because her stand-up performance was so fascinating. After the show, I started to follow Ronja’s blog, which is called “with unseeing eyes”. There was an audio of an interview, in which she tells about her life as a visually impaired person since the age of eight. The tape reveals that she viewed her piquant feature in the same way already as a child as she does now – everything is going just fine.
– What are your hobbies?
– Biking and roller blading.
– How are they going?
– Well. They are going just fine.
– When you ride a bike, do you drive in the front or behind?
– Sometimes in the front and sometimes in the back.
– Which one is easier?
– In the front. If I’m behind, the speed of the person in front may be too slow. (Laughter).
My short film Illusionist’s Visions about Ronja’s life got its inspiration from her blog post, where she wrote about her dream to become a sign language interpreter. When she inquired about the possibility of starting sign language studies, she was told that the Finnish sign language is a visual language, and that learning it requires the sense of sight. Since she had participated in a sign language course in junior high, she disagreed. As a visually impaired athlete with excellent muscular memory, she claims that out of all foreign languages that she has studied, sign language has been the easiest to learn. What annoyed her most, was that the “not accepted” selection was made already before the application process. The professors didn’t even want to hear her ideas about studying with a sign language speaking personal assistant. Nor to discuss about her opportunities to specialize in tactile signing for deaf-blinds or in one-way interpretation in theaters or television. Not to mention the future, where motion sensing cameras and smart clothing might be included in the teaching of sign language.
In 2012, a law entered into force in Finland that was intended to prevent persons who might endanger occupational and patient safety (e.g. substance abuse and psychotic symptoms) to access certain areas of education. Unfortunately it has already been used several times to discriminate against persons with disabilities in student selection. For instance, a graphic design school was sentenced to pay a fine, since it had denied the right to study from a deaf student on the grounds that the classroom didn’t have enough room for the interpreter. Ronja’s case is of course more complicated and unprecedented – and therefore so intriguing.
The film Illusionist’s Visions is not about the battle to get in to interpreter training, but a story of dreams. Bodily privileged people are often restricting the rights of persons with disabilities with their prejudices and by maintaining stereotypical ideas of what kind of things are possible and which not. Assumptions that a blind person would not do magic tricks nor speak sign language is a subconcious way to build barriers to inclusion. As a spin-off, these negative presuppositions make purposeful and active persons with disabilities look like exceptional heroes. Ronja has not chosen her hobbies in spite of her disability but like most of us, due to her passions and interests.
For me it was fascinating to hear, how a person who doesn’t follow the non-verbal communication of others, finds the beauty of gestures and body-language when she becomes acquainted with sign language. I began to ask, what is it like to live isolated from this visual culture, where it’s more and more important to stage the scene of existence by photos, videos and other visible things. What kind of visual role you create when you can’t get inspiration from others?
Disability as a concept doesn’t mean defective individuals but a way of treating people whose features differ from the imaginary norms. Everyday life of persons with disabilities doesn’t improve by observing problems. It is more important to recognize barriers due to which people’s dreams and top moments of life are threatened. Illusionist’s visions attempts to open our seeing eyes to understand better what is it like to live with a visual impairment. It has also many unfocused and blurred pictures to attract people who see to close their eyes and follow the illusions produced by the sounds and audio description. It offers short flashes of disability culture and it is made completely by persons with disabilities.
– Jenni-Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen