The team of young broadcast journalists from youth television studio Iceberg TV had a long journey behind them. They had traveled from Yekaterinburg, Russia to Boston, Massachusetts. Katya Chekhomova, Ksenia Kaminskaya, Matvey Safin, and Arseniy Kolosov - together with their teacher Alyona Chekhomova – had desperately wanted to take part in one of the US-Russia Social Expertise Exchange’s student media projects, and had submitted strong entries to past Youth TV Bridge competitions. In early summer 2017, the young television journalists from Iceberg TV seized victory in the SEE-organized “45 seconds to Russia” video contest. As the winners, they are co-producing the first season of SEE’s new Disabilities Partnership TV program.
Over the course of the next year, they will be reporting, filming, editing, and producing the first season of DPTV with their American colleagues from Hempfield High School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, jointly recording video material that highlights disability-related issues in Russia and the United States. As part of DPTV, they had the opportunity to travel in several US states, including Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. They were able to visit many interesting organizations that work with people with disabilities. They began their journey along the east coast of the United States in New England.
“Meet our good luck charm, Smit*the penguin! Right before our departure, one of the other Iceberg TV students sewed this penguin for us … and we decided to take it along” said Kseniya Kaminskaya, holding the Iceberg TV-branded penguin plushy. Kseniya travels frequently on assignments, and records materials for reports about her journeys. She has been using a wheelchair since childhood, and investigates the accessibility of various environments around the world, preparing broadcast segments about her experiences in each new country. In any case, neither she, nor any of the other three Iceberg TV students have ever crossed the Atlantic Ocean.
To prepare for their journey, studio director Alyona Chekhomova said that the Iceberg TV students watched a bunch of American films that are set in Boston. “It helped us feel the atmosphere and energy of the city before even arriving” says Katya Chekhomova. Moreover, the students managed to watch several episodes of a popular Russian television program for travelers, in which the hosts impart valuable advice for tourists. However, the Russian DPTV participants didn’t have much time to spend on touristy activities – their visit to Boston was quite literally scheduled down to the minute.
Having visited the city’s main attractions and after investigating how accessible these sites are for people with disabilities, the team strolled around the campuses of Harvard and MIT and through Boston Common, the oldest park in America. Following these excursions, the Iceberg TV team headed over to the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL) to learn more about adaptive technology and living with disability in the United States.
BCIL is the second oldest such center in the USA and has been working for over 40 years to help people with disabilities live independently. For example, the Center’s specialists try to match their clients with accessible living arrangements, internships, and employment opportunities. BCIL also has an emphasis on supporting teenagers with disabilities, helping young people establishing long-term plans and developing personal goals.
The BCIL employees thoroughly explained to the Iceberg TV team the details of their day-to-day work, and gave them a tour of their office space. Approximately 80% of the employees are people with disabilities. For the Iceberg TV team, this was all quite novel:
“What surprised me most, is that one is permitted to come to the office with service dogs for support, and that these dogs can be of any breed. In Russia, almost all service dogs are Labradors,” notes Ksenia.
The second organizations that Iceberg TV visited was the Boston-based Institute for Human-Centered Design. Again, the DPTV team encountered several coworkers with accompanying service dogs. This was one of the first organizations in the US that focused on optimizing environments to be maximally accessible for people with varying abilities. Many of the employees of the institute themselves have disabilities.
The team learned about how IHCD helps major America museums adapt their exhibits and content for people with varying abilities. IHCD considers it a top priority to recount the successes stories of people with disabilities, given that media is an important tool for directing society’s attention towards concrete issues affecting people with disabilities.
This latter point is a highlight for the both the Russian and American participants of the new DPTV platform, as it mirrors their own passion and focus in producing the series. During all of their meetings and sessions at IHCD, Matvey, Iceberg TV’s cinematographer, never let go of his camera, managing to record every little detail of their visit. At this point, the team had already recorded over 10 hours of interview and B-roll footage, and this was only the second day in the United States!
The following day, the young journalists from Yekaterinburg were invited to spend some time outdoors and paddle in kayaks in Weyland, MA, not far from Boston. Waypoint Adventures was founded on the premise that people with disabilities can and should have access to all sorts of hobbies, and consequently, the organizations hosts classes for people with disabilities in hiking, rock climbing, and in similar adventurous activities.
The team from Yekaterinburg attended a lesson on kayaking, and eagerly joined a kayaking expedition with a group of American students with disabilities. After just half an hour of kayaking, they had many insights:
“In Russia we have sports for people with disabilities, but I personally never professionally engaged in any of them, certainly not kayaking” says Ksenia. “because of that, this has been a remarkable and exciting experience for me. But to think that it doesn’t really require any sort of special devices or adaptive tech for me to be able to use a kayak. Just [an all-terrain] type of wheelchair that I could ride to the shore, and that’s it. In other words, nothing particularly complex was required but the actually process was incredible fun!”
The Waypoint Adventures team explained that these classes in the outdoors are good not just for physical health but for mental health, because these engaging outdoor activities help develop friendships and allow one to meet people and have a good time together.
They visitors from Yekaterinburg all agreed that they wanted to continue kayaking upon returning to Russia. But immediately after their US kayaking adventure, the team was already on their way to Pennsylvania to meet with their American colleagues from Hempfield High School.
*Smit decodes to SMIT, which in Russian is an acronym for “Youth Internet TV Studio” (тудия олодежного нтернет елевидения [«Айсберг ТВ»]).