Written by: Angela Hernandez and Jukka-Pekka Ovaska
“Mentally handicapped or intellectually disabled, which do you favor?” Does it make a difference? How do you keep up? We often struggle to speak about the conditions that certain “groups of people” are faced with. During Creating the Mindset of Sustainable Societies, a compulsory joint course offered by the Creative Sustainability programme, we attempted to depict the reasons why. We questioned the topic within the realms of media and day to day life. The majority of the course was conducted with experimental teaching methods which required much adaptation. On many instances we were lead to endure unconventional learning settings, which eventually were proven beneficial. This is when we honed our courage to ask more questions and to feel empowered by doubt. These learning settings further emphasized the need to redevelop mindsets as a way to successfully create sustainable societies.
One of the most memorable experiences during the course was our visit to Käpytikka house, an apartment complex designed to house intellectually disabled people. The concept for the complex was initiated by the Käpytikka association. Through a collaborative effort, the design and construction of the building was developed by Käpytikka association, the Aalto School of Arts, and the city of Helsinki.
While Käpytikka house is a unique building in its own right, it is an exceptional demonstration of understanding the needs of the end users. All aspects of the building were designed with a particular need or purpose in mind. For example, the layout of the building included a communal hall that was used for daily activities such as playing cards or completing jigsaw puzzles, but which could also be used for events, such as concerts and lectures. As a result, the design of the hall helps the occupants meet several different and seemingly contradictory needs, including the need for community, and the need for privacy.
We also had the opportunity to visit Annantalo Children and Youth Art Center, located at the center of Helsinki. The Annantalo Youth Art Center works closely with schools and offers art education, dance, exhibitions, and theatre productions for children and youngsters. During our visit we learned more about the relationships between disability and arts. Most importantly we gathered an understanding that art is not a medium exclusively reserved for a select group of people. Instead, art should be viewed as a medium for self-actualization and self-expression that everyone can implement in their lives.
Our work was conducted in groups of six students from all Creative Sustainability programs. The final course presentations ranged from theatrical demonstrations portraying the international views to factual dissertations concerning the current justice system available for people with intellectual disabilities. While the scope of the projects was very broad, a particular emphasis was placed on the institutional discrimination of intellectually disabled people. Despite this emphasis, in the project brief we were essentially given freedom to choose and define the problem space for ourselves. With little time and resources, most groups decided to approach social problems related to disability by presenting and discussing ideas and topics that were uncovered during the group works, rather than promoting concrete solutions.
The course zoomed into one specific topic concerning the mindset of our societies, which only proved that there are numerous similar conflicting topics that are yet to be addressed. One of the most valuable aspects of the course was the assertive discussions that were held among the students and the professors. Our interests were peaked and contributions were constructive. Although, it is certain that every student had a different understanding of the course and were met with varying outcomes, it was a vital learning experience. We learned that, though a difficult task, reshaping the way disabilities are viewed in our society is not only possible but vastly important. It is based on how we’ve built our societies and from this we can learn to better determine future outcomes.