Bologna | Italy
L’Altro Spazio is a cafeteria project based on the concept of inclusion – says Nunzia Vannuccini, founder. Inclusion is an idea in which anybody can work and do anything like everybody else. The inclusion of people with disabilities who have never worked in life and have here a first experience, maybe the only experience. We started working with visually impaired people, deaf people, a girl in a wheelchair who works at the counter. We started as a team and we tailored all the environments to these people. The kitchen is planned to fit a visually impaired person, the counter is made so to fit also a person using a wheelchair. In the end we understood things just need to be planned before building an environment. The infamous architectural barriers, why to build them and destroy them afterward? Isn’t it better not to build them in the first place?
And everything began 4 years ago from a very personal experience.
I started working with deaf people and, day by day, within this environment I learned the sign language. I have even learned dialects. Then, I took a course that set me back on track because I had learned such a jumble of dialects. Being within this environment I realized that people outside know nothing about the world of deaf. Once there was a girl from the tourism business, she entered the place where we were and told me: "Ah, I did not realize that deaf people were normal people." I will never forget it. And so I thought, people know nothing. They don't know. And they don't know because deaf communities are closed, blind communities are closed.
That time Nunzia used to live opposite an institute for blind people. Every day she was asking herself: where do those people go? What do they do in life? Where do they meet others?
There came the idea of L’Altro Spazio (Ed. Italian for the Other Place). The idea of the other person, of the other world, that so many do not know. It is important because living every day with all these people around it becomes normal. Accessibility arises when a limit to access is created. It's like the concept of disability. People who work here have disabilities according to the law. In a way it is true, but if you create an “able” environment, the person is no longer disable. This is the concept behind L’Altro Spazio.
But L’Altro Spazio is not only a place where people can forget about their "inabilities". It is a place where we can experience the world in so many different ways.
The added value of deaf people is that they have their own languages. So they have a different idea and perspective toward life. They don't have a sound, they have a vision. So I can now visually perceive things as I wouldn’t before. Noise as sound, attention to certain details. In turn, blind people have the perspective of sound. So, you face the fact that that sense is there, it exists. For example, here in Bologna I live with a blind person and my partner is deaf. It’s amazing to see the encounter between their two worlds in which they have had to learn the presence of the other, the perception that the other exists. They must learn between themselves to live together. And this is freaky because they are in a way at the extremes of communication. And I am in the middle there, trying to understand.
Another example, Manuela is a girl in a wheelchair who had an accident 7 years ago. She has so much energy that I forget she is sitting on that wheelchair, because she does everything. And she wants to do more and more. She is a 15k walking world-class champion. Standing close to these people you realize... What are you complaining about every day? People say "eh yes... it could be better." What you miss does not allow you to enjoy what you have.
The relation between people involved in L’Altro Spazio is one of their main successes. But not the only one.
The nice thing is that people who come here, they have been taken out by a nail from the head, so to say. Yesterday a guy came and while having some appetizer he started speaking with our cook. After some time the girl asked how the food was. And he said he liked it. Then, as they talked she mentioned her being visually impaired. The guy just startled and got up from the chair. He thought again about what he ate and tested it in another way. He couldn’t believe she could cook something so good. L’Altro Spazio tries to remove, apart from the architectural barriers, those mental barriers that have been created over time. Those in the wheelchair must stay at home. The blind one must always be accompanied. How does a blind cook prepare food? Does he/she set the house on fire? These barriers must be destroyed. And in that case we succeeded.
They managed. Despite the thousands of problems and challenges they face every day.
The main challenge is the world around. We are enclosed in our ideal world. The challenge is to make way for every person to enter and get at least one coffee and the perception of this world. Looking around you see an albino person serving you, a girl in a wheelchair at the counter. The challenge is to meet these people every day and one by one let them understand the project and all these things. Once a man entered and said: "Ah, you work fine sitting like that. Comfortable, isn’t it?!?". Manuela had her legs under the counter and there was a lot of people, the man could not see. When he realized it I think we took out another huge nail. The strongest challenge is their challenge. One day I'd like to erase the word “disable” from the dictionary. These are people with a new challenge every day, maybe this is the right definition. Normal people are uncomfortable with others' disabilities. We want to create an ideal place. Maybe I'm a dreamer, but if you don't dream it, it's impossible to make it happen.
More about L’Altro Spazio: laltrospazio.com