See Every Colour campaign is helping people with disabilities demonstrate their abilities

Countering widespread myths in the society

By Joseph Larsen for UNICEF Georgia
Inga playing at the launch of the See Every Colour campaign in Kutaisi. Kutaisi, May 2017

03 September 2018

TBILISI, October 2017 - “Music gives me energy and power and makes me sing and play”, said Inga Valishvili, a 21-year-old high school graduate who plays piano and metallophone with the paraorchestra, a Tbilisi-based orchestra for young people with disabilities. She joined the orchestra when it launched four years ago. 

Inga has a disability, but it doesn’t stop her from living a full life. Making music is a big part of that.

Inga’s musical pursuits have gotten a boost from the communication for social change campaign “See Every Colour”, which was launched by UNICEF in February 2017 to change attitudes towards children and young adults with disabilities. The campaign focuses on showcasing the abilities of children and young people with disabilities. It has been rolled out across the country and has involved thousands of people, including Inga. 

The campaign provides a platform for the paraorchestra to demonstrate the abilities of young people. The goal is to counter the widespread myth in Georgia that these people have no abilities of their own and are only dependent on others. Inga’s most memorable moment as a musician came while playing a concert in Kutaisi, west Georgia, this May, when “See Every Colour” launched its regional campaign during the city’s annual festival. “I remember Kutaisi as a very fun place. We were in the street and people were coming up to us. We met a lot of new people”, said Inga.

Paraorchestra at the Concervatory
Performance of Paraorchestra on the Child Protection Day at the Conservatory. Tbilisi, June 2017

In June, Inga and the paraorchestra played alongside famous Georgian pianist Datuna Aladashvili. The concert took place at the Tbilisi Conservatory to mark Child Protection Day in Georgia. It was part of the See Every Colour campaign. For Inga, playing at the Conservatory was a big event. Members of the audience were moved at seeing children and young people with disabilities perform music at such an advanced level. In addition, guests were able to learn about the needs and abilities of children with disabilities and about the campaign itself.

Music provides an outlet for Inga’s passion and a way to interact with the world around her. It also offers a way to change social attitudes about people with disabilities. She—and others like her—are not charity cases to be pitied. They are individuals with interests, abilities, and dreams.

While she has observed attitudes changing for the better, Inga still sees work to be done: “Some people already know about the orchestra and are coming back as guests. But I’m always happy to see new people attending. I think that more and more people need to attend our concerts and find out about us.”

Data Partskhaladze is nine years old and has autism spectrum disorder. His experience has brought home the strong hold that stigma has over society. “Many parents of children with disabilities, they themselves don’t believe in the abilities of their children”, said his mother, Mari.

Mari is an advocate for Data and other children with disabilities in Georgia. See Every Colour has done its part by providing a platform. “It’s possible to get more information to the wider society because the platform is broader—a platform to advocate not only for my child but for other children”, said Mari. The campaign connected her to journalists reporting on human rights and social issues, which was helpful in trying to change attitudes at Data’s school. The campaign also created a video showcasing Data’s abilities in his favorite hobby, swimming and diving. “When he himself watched the video, he was terribly proud”, Mari said.

Data improved his learning and social skills due to the social change in the school
Data improved his learning and social skills due to the social change in the school
Data improved his learning and social skills due to the social change in the school

The campaign has contributed to changing social attitudes. One example is the school where Data is enrolled. At the beginning, Data had problems interacting with other children and staying engaged in lessons. Compounding the problem, the school personnel did not have information about children with autism spectrum disorder. Providing teachers, school principals and the parents of other children with the relevant information has achieved real results.

Gradually, the attitudes of teachers and parents towards Data have changed for the better. Data is playing with other children. His social skills have improved, and he’s doing better in the classroom as well. “He likes school very much. He is more integrated there. The more active he is socially at school, the better his academic results are. The kids also like Data very much,” said Data’s mother.

Positive changes are observable, and not only at Data’s school. “Society’s approach has been changing”, Mari said with optimism. “Even parents of children without disabilities are getting in touch with me to provide support.”   

Since its launch the campaign has expanded to different regions of Georgia and has been featured at various public events, festivals and celebrations involving large numbers of people. It has succeeded in reaching new audiences with information and mobilizing new supporters. Photo and video stories, publications, and media reports have helped to counter widespread myths about people with disabilities.

The campaign is also helping showcase the abilities of young people like Inga and Data. Fighting deep-rooted stigma isn’t easy. But by contributing to changing attitudes, the See Every Colour campaign is helping ensure that social change keeps moving in the right direction.