While spending the next couple of months as study visitor at the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights and enjoying charming Vienna with all of its monumental buildings and lovely Christmas markets, I am trying to make some connections with the local disability movement. However language barriers prevent me from getting easily aware of the important initiatives and projects of NGOs, today I had the chance to attend a really inspiring (and progressive) event: A literature prize award (further information on the ‘Literaturpreis Ohrenschmaus’ is available at: http://ohrenschmaus.net/ ). Why was it that special? The prize was created six years ago for writers with intellectual disabilities who may submit their prose or poems to be reviewed by a prominent jury. This year they received 146 texts and 3000 Euro was awarded to the winners. The ceremonial event attracted a lot of people, both disabled and non-disabled. Friends, families, fans of literature, academics, human rights activists, editors, book publishers etc. Well-known Austrian actors and actresses read some of the pieces before the awards were given to the winners. The whole event was organised in the Ovalhalle of the Museumsquartier, a fancy artistic spot in town, young and sparkling contemporary place.
Tonight was a fantastic occasion to experience the so-called paradigm shift articulated in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The big words better get formulated in every day life. When persons with disabilities are not treated as pitiful objects of charities any more, but being equal citizens and holding the same rights as any one else. In my view, our society is very much literacy oriented, therefore ensuring the accessibility for persons with intellectual disabilities is one of the greatest challenges regarding the implementation process of the CRPD. Making our overcomplicated world rather simple and understandable is more difficult than doing some reconstruction or developing handy tools. Some easy-to-read documents do not necessarily help to remove all those barriers. Acknowledging that persons with intellectual disabilities are able to contribute to literature will certainly do. Such an event may narrow the gap between the historically exclusive literary canon and authors who happen to have a disability. Literature as a subjective art should be an open space for everybody to verbalize his or her messages regardless of any disabilities. Talented authors with a disability should be read and respected as others. Or at least be known. I was delighted to get to know some excellent Austrian writers tonight.