Seven years ago, Veronika Ivanova joined The Walt Disney Company in Russia in Moscow. She works as a translator, and helps her colleagues find a common language. But her second important mission at The Walt Disney Company is to ensure that people who speak the same language - but have different abilities - are able to clearly and easily understand each other. Additionally, Veronika is a specialist on disability related issues for the Disney office in Moscow. She understands the issues facing people with disabilities, as she has been using a wheelchair since a very young age due to a birth-related disability.
In January 2017, Veronika joined SEE’s Independent Professionals Project Initiative to implement a project for developing work opportunities for people with disabilities hired by The Walt Disney Company in Russia. While realizing parts of her project in the United States, Veronika met with faculty members of the K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Institute on Employment and Disability at Cornell University, and attended the New York City-based disabilities film festival ReelAbilities: NY. During a panel discussion at ReelAbilities, Veronika shared some of her ideas for implementing meaningful projects that promote workplace inclusivity. Veronika’s experiences in the United States changed the course of her work in Russia:
“After my return from the United States, I made a whole series of presentations to my colleagues” says Veronika. “Initially there were smaller presentations exclusively for the [Walt Disney] Company’s top leadership – I familiarized them with the objectives of the journey and its results, and shared some of the information that I acquired as a result of the journey. A few weeks later, I led a more general presentation for my colleagues and discussed the economic benefits of hiring coworkers with disabilities, as well as how to serve clients with disabilities using existing company programs. I included the results of significant foreign companies in implementing such policies. I also addressed the legal side of employment-related questions.”
This exchange of experience did not pass by unnoticed, and according to Veronika, the Russian office of Disney Company dove headfirst into disability-related issues.
One of the key points that Veronika wanted to drive home to her colleagues is that having a disability should not be a limiting factor for accessing movie theaters. To realize this concept in Russia, The Walt Disney Company in Russia decided to join forces with regional disabilities-focused NGO Perspektiva, as well as with two large movie theater franchises in Russia: Formula Kino and Cinema Park.
In July, these theater chains launched a coordinated screening program campaign called Mission Marvel: Accessible Movie Theaters. The first screening took place in one of the Formula theaters on Lyubyanka Square in Moscow, opening its doors to people with disabilities affecting their mobility, vision, and hearing. For many of them, attending the Mission Marvel screenings was their first ever visit to a movie theater. The Organizers of the project hopes that it will be far from their last.
“I was told by the [Walt Disney] Company’s leadership that the [perspectives] that I had offered during my presentations – particularly the information related to my SEE-supported participation in the ReelAbilities: NY film festival in New York City – served as a key push in developing this sizable movie marathon” said Veronika.
In August 2017, dozens of Russian cities have officially launched the first stage of the Mission Marvel: Accessible Movie Theaters movie marathon, including Moscow, Novosibirsk, Saint Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Nizhniy Novgorod. Each participating movie theater is equipped with special technology for screening films with subtitles for viewers who are deaf or hearing-impaired, and is undertaking necessary renovations to make screening spaces accessible to people using wheelchairs. During this first phase, lasting through December 2017, Marvel films featuring the superheroes Spiderman and Thor will be screened for free. During the second phase of the project, the accessible programming will become a permanent feature of the movie theaters, and popular commercial films will continue being shown in specialized accessible screening rooms.
“Marvel represents a universe of heroes who are united by compassion” says Marina Zhigalova-Ozkan, General Director of The Walt Disney Company in Russia. “Superheroes are not always people who were born with superpowers … they are often those who overcome limitations and circumstances to achieve their goals. It is by virtue of their perseverance and readiness to change the world for the better that they become heroes. We would like for Marvel’s stories to inspire people and to help them believe in themselves. Our goal is to create a world where movies are available and accessible for all, regardless of ability.”
Currently, Veronika and her colleagues are working on several projects at once, creating accessible environments in the film industry and within The Walt Disney Company in Russia. Veronika shares that she is incredibly happy to have been able to successfully utilize the experience she gained from her participation in the SEE Independent Professionals Project Initiative. She has many ideas that she still would like to realize, and hopes that they can be actualized as successfully as the Mission Marvel: Accessible Theaters movie marathon was.