Interview with Lena Batal
Esch2022 Cultural Accessibility Coordinator
How would you describe your role at Esch2022?
I am in charge of accessibility to culture. This means planning and implementing the involvement of different audiences with culture and facilitating access to events and places, especially for remote audiences.
How would you define accessibility?
Accessibility implies inclusion through culture, making sure that culture is not reserved for a minority or an elite, but that everyone can appropriate it and participate. This participatory aspect is particularly important. Accessibility is a right defined in article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ‘Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.’
Accessibility particularly concerns audiences that are far removed from culture and aims to reduce the obstacles that prevent people from accessing culture (whether for economical, social, physical or psychological reasons). It also takes into account the realities of audiences with specific needs, and aims to improve access to places and content. Beyond that, improving the accessibility of a cultural venue also implies meeting the needs of various audiences: foreign tourists, new settlers, children, the elderly, etc.
What concrete actions and measures do you intend to develop in this context?
Above all, to properly approach accessibility, one needs to be aware that no decision can be made without the consent of those concerned. This is why it is essential for me to discuss and work in collaboration with local actors in the cultural and social field and to develop solutions together, tools for a culture that is inclusive and collaborative.
It also means developing a communication strategy that is accessible and comprehensible to everyone, especially audiences with specific needs or audiences who may not yet master our language, such as newly settled people. Currently, we are working with the KLARO service of the APEMH to communicate in simple language.
At the same time, I work intensely with the public department of Esch2022 to develop adapted mediation tools such as guided tours for the elderly or for people with specific needs, and to design workshops with associations so that all audiences can actively participate.
Esch2022 also collaborates actively with Cultur’all, the non-profit organisation that manages the Kulturpass, which allows people with a modest income to access culture for free or at the moderate price of €1.50 per event (shows, exhibitions, concerts, sporting activities, etc). With Cultur’all, we are trying to develop the Kulturpass in the Esch2022 region and to inform and raise awareness among cultural and social actors about issues of accessibility to culture.
How can you get things moving on the ground?
The objective is to open the doors of culture to all and to ensure equal access. Everyone must have access to cultural events and be able to move independently, without necessarily needing to be accompanied. We also work a lot with our project partners to raise awareness on these issues and help them develop solutions. In this respect, I very much encourage collaborations between specific associations and project partners. Although some Esch2022 projects are specifically centred on notions of accessibility, the main idea is to make all projects accessible to everyone.
Does the multilingual dimension of Luxembourg play an important part in what you do?
This is almost inevitable in a cross-border and multicultural country such as Luxembourg. This is why we strive to ensure that our events adapt to the linguistic reality of the regions and cater to everyone’s linguistic needs. For example, for the major exhibitions organised at the Massenoire and the Möllerei, we will systematically offer guided tours in German, English, French and Luxembourgish, and we also plan visits in sign language and in certain other foreign languages. The relevant information will be provided for each of our events.
What are the major issues and challenges of accessibility in the context of Esch2022?
The main challenge is to make sure visitors come and enjoy what’s on offer, to make them want to come back and take advantage of the whole cultural offer beyond Esch2022. Because we must think of Esch2022 as a basis for developing initiatives and synergies in the long term.
Are there specific tools to enable people with special needs to experience emotions to which they might have only limited access?
The Immersive Life solution, for example, is a device that we will roll out jointly with the counselling organisation for the hearing-impaired Höhrgeschädigten Beratung. It consists of vibrating vests that transmit sounds and music through vibrations, thus allowing deaf or hard-of-hearing members of the audience to access the sound and musical universe of concerts or festivals, or simply to take part in musical workshops. We will also offer blind or visually impaired people guided tours with a sighted person so as to facilitate their access to artworks. The question of feelings and emotions is at the heart of our thoughts around inclusion.
What about accessibility to venues?
This is an essential aspect of accessibility. In the framework of Esch2022 we are striving to ensure that the venues are best fit to accommodate all audiences. In this context, communication is essential because it is important for audiences to know whether they can attend an event and how to get there.
Does the sanitary situation have an impact on accessibility?
Clearly, culture is suffering from cancellations, postponements and a drop in attendance provoked by this situation. The health crisis also tends to further reinforce isolation and distress of vulnerable people. Culture therefore has a fundamental role to play in avoiding isolation and in reestablishing social ties.