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Frontpage News 2015 See the person, not the disability

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The 'I am here' project uses three forms of communication – seeing, hearing, and speaking – to help vulnerable groups participate more actively in social life. Photographer: Neringa Girdvainiene and Vidmantas Girdvainis

See the person, not the disability

‘See the person, not the disability’ - this is the message of the ‘I AM HERE’ project which is helping to address the isolation often experienced by people with learning disabilities and their families.

Supported by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the Lithuanian NGO programme, the project uses the three fundamental forms of communication (seeing, hearing, speaking) to help vulnerable groups participate more actively in community life.

NGOs, social workers, volunteers and staff from local authorities are all involved in organising activities to increase understanding and awareness of disability amongst the wider public. This will, in turn, contribute to increased social engagement in the community of the project beneficiaries.

As part of the project, two photographers from the city of Klaipėda, Neringa Girdvainienė and Vidmantas Girdvainis, themselves parents to Benukas who has Down syndrome, organised a photo exhibition called ‘Learn to love somebody different’.

The photographers explained how having a child with Down syndrome, they have often felt stigmatised by society. That is why they decided that it was up them, with their personal experience, to educate people. Using photography as a medium of communication, the idea behind the exhibition was not simply to inform the public, but also to inspire confidence in other parents of children with Down syndrome.

The exhibition also featured photos of Alzheimer's patients who, while vulnerable in a different way, are also often regarded with pity and compassion.

60_5316_1096336064_alzhaimer's Photo credit: Neringa Girdvainienė and Vidmantas Girdvainis

The photographers saw how the powerful images helped families and relatives by encouraging them to be more open in talking about their problems.

“We learned how many parents feel guilty. I have to admit, I really find that I often blame myself when Benukas does something inappropriate in a public place,” said Neringa Girdvainienė at the exhibition opening.

The exhibition provided a space for people to come together to discuss and share understanding, overcome fears and dispel stereotypes, gradually creating an enabling environment for those with disabilities to become more accepted and more included in community life.

60_5317_2008124305_as esu 1 Photo credit: Neringa Girdvainienė and Vidmantas Girdvainis

See more photos from the exhibition in media library stream

Read more about the Lithuanian NGO Programme