Slamet Thohati is a professor from the Sociology Department of Universitas Brawijaya who puts himself in many inclusivity issues. He was the secretary of the Center for Disability Studies and Services of Universitas Brawijaya for seven years and is the ambassador of Indonesia in AIDRAN (Australia Indonesia Disability and Advocacy Network). He went to the Philosophy Department of Universitas Gadjah Mada and the Department of Sociology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His research fields include the disabled, intersectionality, health sociology, gender, and Islam in Indonesia.
This year’s Festival Film Dokumenter invites Slamet Thohari as the speaker in DocTalk entitled Voice: Virtual Reality, Cross-Medium and New Effect of Documentary. On Friday, 11th of December 2020, we had the chance to have a deeper understanding of his perspective on disability issues and the correlation with cross-medium technology.
How do you see the accessibility of digital platforms nowadays?
This digital world brings several changes and revolutionary instruments for the disabled which open the way for knowledge. Everything is now accessible. Back then, if the blinds wanted to read a newspaper or a book they should ask for someone to read it for them or use braille. But now, websites, soft files, and things like that make them able to enjoy the news like the others. They are also able to use social media, which they were not. They could not read the morning newspaper, only hear them.
The problem is, the screen reader can’t read every word. For example, wordless posters, the apps can’t read them well. Therefore, the blinds can’t understand announcements or manuals in picture format. They are not accessible for them. Same thing with film. Now, YouTube provides an image-to-speech feature. Back then, there was a movement for making narration for films. Like one of the recently released films, Sejauh Melangkah (2019) by Ucu Agustin provides such accessibility. Including documentary films here provides such accessibility for the blinds to enjoy.
How do you see The Feelings of Reality program?
It really provides new things for the disabled, especially the deaf. Then they will read the lips, blinks, mimics, and rooms. Virtual reality can provide that. Then another problem comes, can the blinds enjoy virtual reality as well?
It becomes a problem. Based on research, 70 governmental websites have accessibility rates of under 80%. It is low. Even Menkominfo is only at 42%. It means that those websites are difficult to access. Therefore, it should be prepared. It provides good things, but still needs improvement.
Is there any awareness or something that should be built?
The narration of the story or pictures. For example, a video may contain a text link. Second, the thing that should be developed is a virtual reality video from the filmmaker’s perspective.
The first perspective is in many films, the filmmakers see the disabled from the non-disabled’s perspective. For example, you and I have different abilities. Sometimes, my world shakes. Do the films picture it? Sometimes films only provide innocent perspective, nice, and smooth. The same thing goes with the blinds when they are analyzing something, it is pictured that they can see things. In fact, the world for the blinds is dark. Therefore, they are still pictured as objects. Therefore, the experience of becoming blind is not there, only the experience of becoming with a blind. Isn’t one of the purposes of virtual reality to make us virtually there? One of the purposes of watching a documentary on the blinds is to feel the experience of becoming one of them.
I am truly happy when a film does not show sorrow about the disabled, as if the disabled has the purpose to bring inspiration to the non-disabled. The disabled are not an inspiration tool for the non-disabled. Being disabled is having only a different daily life. What makes the film interesting is there is no such thing. But for the blinds, I think they are still not in the story.
You think, how far do documentary films affect the public on this inclusivity issue?
Films affect the public greatly. They are a part of advocating instruments for giving literation and awareness about the disabled so they can be accepted by society. Sometimes social media only bores society. But by watching films, they are introduced to the facts of daily life which are pictured by documentary films. I remember there was a film festival for the disabled, it should go on.
Currently, many people are concerned about this issue, even though it is still far from a real implementation. At least, people start talking about that. It is none other than the role of filmmakers.
What is the thing that we should pay attention to or your suggestion on inclusive documentary filmmaking?
The first one is the perspective. Then, how the film can be enjoyed by many people, including its accessibility. The point of view is not to make the disabled charity objects, inspiration tools, and not to dramatize their life. They don’t exist to be given mercy. Instead, show the real life of the disabled.
The things that should be reviewed are the paradigm and the perspective on making films about the disabled. Don’t show their suffering, as if they are superb with their disabilities.
How does a perspective on a medium develop a certain experience that raises awareness on this disability issue?
From research. And the point of view on the disabled. For example, we see women, we should see them as subjects, not objects. Therefore, we should learn about feminism in advance. The same thing goes with making films about the disabled, we should learn about the point of view on disabilities. We still lack it, I think. But at least, the representation of the disabled is up and down. It changes from year to year. Currently, it is already good. So, research is crucial. To make it inclusive, the films involve the disabled from the beginning. Let them speak, not speak for them.
Why does objectification like this exist and what is the role of technology in the case?
That’s because a part of the construction process makes the disabled unable. It is confusing that they are always inspirational. It is a stigma. TV, films, and so on play a big role in popularizing that stigma. That is a part of discrimination, the way the non-disabled perceive the disabled as the weak. They perceive them as inspiration porn, which aims only to satisfy the audience.
How do you see the representation of the disabled as the subjects in audiovisual products in general?
We should admit that there is still a stigma. If it is not inspiration porn, then it is the medical view. The view according to human rights, such as among activists, is that they still see the disabled as the weak and should be helped. It can be seen from various policies at the regional or the central levels.
Written by Dina Tri Wijayanti