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Embracing Differences – Connecting Worlds

Photo: Theo Jansen

People with and without disabilities often have few opportunities to interact in daily life. The staff, visitors, and helpers at an inclusive project in Darmstadt, ZwischenRäume, are working to change this by building bridges between two often very different worlds.

“It is important to us that differences are lived out, but also that interactions are at eye level, among equals. That’s why we create spaces where people with and without disabilities can spend time together and engage in an open exchange,” said coordinator Elke Hitzel, describing the basic idea of the initiative. The heart of the program is the ZwischenRaum Café (“the space between”). Here, says Marion Zepp, who also works as a project coordinator, “people groups that rarely interact in daily life can meet to drink coffee or play a round of tabletop football.” “But that is certainly not all!” adds Elke Hitzel.

On Saturdays there is a buffet, and during the week visitors can expect a varied program focused on various artistic, cultural, or educational topics. The rooms are often used for exhibits or readings, and once a month there is a sewing café where Barbara, Diana, and Bea, three volunteer seamstresses, carry out clothing repairs or offer advice on sewing projects.

With the help of volunteers and student interns, the team is also able to offer courses on inclusiveness that address questions such as “What does accessibility mean?” “What do we mean by full participation?” or “What does the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities really say?” – taking the needs of the organization’s visitors into account. That is also why the team created a Grieving Café where, once a month, grieving individuals have an opportunity to share their feelings. As Marion Zepp emphasizes: “Inclusiveness must exist in all areas of life, and not just in certain isolated parts. That’s why we are using ZwischenRäume to work for participation in free-time, education, sport, art, and culture.”