Hero Künstlerkarten DSC2335 Druckc Philipp Schuster

Artists' cards, photo: Philipp Schuster


Barriers in the Head


Helmuth Stöber is the founder of VOI fesch, a social project whose aim is to raise the profile of art created by people with disabilities. Perhaps you already know the cool t-shirts from VOI fesch or the art prize?

He explains to you here why, rather than being afraid of doing the wrong thing, you should simply engage with people. And why inclusion benefits us all.

Fashion show in Vienna's historic centre, photo: VOI fesch

VOI fesch T-Shirt, Photo: Philipp Schuster

Inclusion means including people in society. And while this should obviously happen as a matter of course it is an aspiration that often remains highly abstract, for banal reasons. “For the first 27 years of my life I hardly had any contact with people with disabilities,” explains Helmuth Stöber. “This only happened when I started working voluntarily as a trustee – and then I had three clients.”

Pushing disabilities into the background

Why does Helmuth tell us this? Many of us are afraid of making a mistake. We don’t know how to approach people who are, for example, sitting in a wheelchair. “We have barriers in our heads that we have to break down. It was these concrete encounters that taught me how to engage with people. And this pushed their disabilities into the background.”

How can we address the subject in daily life in an easy-going way?

Helmuth is now the founder and CEO of VOI fesch. Elements of the social project include t-shirts, sweaters and bags with motifs by artists with disabilities and an art prize that is regularly awarded. “For us, taking a positive approach is an important part of addressing the subject in daily life in an easy-going way,” says Helmuth. What does this mean in concrete terms? Maybe someone on the street asks you where the cool t-shirt comes from and you can explain that it was created by artists with disabilities.

Truck design by artist Bettina Onderka, photo: Philipp Schuster

Artist Richard Pilor, photo: Philipp Schuster

Communicating as equals

Pity is definitely the wrong approach because this is imposed from above. It’s important to act as equals and not to feel inhibited or afraid of doing something wrong. “When you chat, you soon learn what’s important to the other person and what terms you should use.” For example, “the disabled” and “disabled people” are difficult terms because they emphasise the disability. “People with disabilities” says that we’re all people and that some just happen to have disabilities but that the important things are those that unite us. Language creates realities and it’s actually pretty easy to understand what’s important when it’s explained clearly.

Creating a platform for artists

It’s also important to VOI fesch that people with disabilities are able to be more self-confident and that there are opportunities to recognise and develop their potential. This is why the art prize that is awarded every year is so important. “The prizewinners have a platform and are seen as artists rather than, as is so often the case, as clients. They experience the recognition of the fact that they have something to offer society. And this is something that we all want.” explains Helmuth. Change can only happen if each of us starts in our own small way. In other words by simply engaging with people, whether they have a disability or not.