Media for Social Change in Cypress

For years, public service announcements (PSAs) have used media creatively to enhance awareness of automobile safety, warn us of the risks associated with smoking cigarettes, promote healthy parenting and keep kids off of drugs.  These short spots, usually under one minute, encourage voluntary behavior change from their audiences—not to purchase a new and improved product but to bring about meaningful benefits for individuals and for society as a whole.

In collaboration with Dr. Mary Hayden, I had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of disability advocates in Cyprus, all concerned with increasing opportunities and developing better services for persons with disabilities via PSAs.  This was a tremendous opportunity, as PSAs are not common in Cyprus and advocacy is done largely on an individual rather than a group basis. And the culture of disability that has evolved in the U.S.—the Independent Living and Self-Advocacy movements, disability rights, arts and culture, the Americans with Disabilities Act—has no parallel in Cyprus.  Groups are now beginning to form as activists and advocates look for solutions to problems of accessible housing, opportunities for inclusive schools, supported employment and negative public attitudes, but there is much work to be done.

Advocates and self-advocates in Cyprus, representing people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, developmental disabilities and members of the Deaf community, were excited about working together for social change.  But as Cyprus is a divided country (the Turkish Cypriots live in the north and the Greek Cypriots live in the south, separated by a thin buffer zone occupied by United Nations forces), opportunities for meeting one another are limited.  We proposed delivering a bicommunal, three-day workshop on public awareness campaign training, focusing on perceptions of disability and strategies for defining clear, effective messages that could change public attitudes about people with disabilities.  From this participatory workshop, we would develop a “creative blueprint” for producing PSAs and the organizational structure to support each message.

With the assistance of the project sponsor, AMIDEAST, we presented the public awareness workshops to Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots at the Fulbright Center, located in the buffer zone in the capital city of Nicosia.  To make communication possible, we all wore wireless microphones and headphones and listened as our words were translated between English, Greek, and Turkish.  Our presentation materials—such as a 100-page booklet (“Disability-Focused Public Awareness”) covering historical perceptions of disability, elements of community organizing and organizational analysis, and an overview of social marketing techniques—were also translated into Turkish and Greek versions.  (The community organizing materials were adapted from Advocating Change Together’s Common Vision program and the social marketing techniques adapted from materials written by Jerry Jaker at the Minnesota Institute on Public Health.)  Given all the potential for misunderstanding, we communicated very well; enthusiasm for addressing disability issues and developing new partnerships were key ingredients of this success.

The purpose of our workshop was twofold:  to teach participants how to develop and run a public awareness campaign supporting disability issues and, through this process, to develop outlines for media campaigns supporting issues of their choosing.  Through the process of identifying and clarifying issues, participants—working in groups—developed treatments for their own PSAs.  A group of parent advocates in the north, representing school age children with developmental and learning disabilities, developed the message “Help Us Help Each Other,” illustrating the power of students with and without disabilities working together with support from their teachers to reject disability labels.  Another group, comprising self-advocates from the north and south, chose to emphasize the rights of people with disabilities and their place in the community.  A group of deaf Cypriots chose a clear and simple message: Learn sign language.

Providing a clear structure for advocates and self-advocates to identify issues and work together for change was key, along with at least one tangible outcome—in this case, production of the TV spots.  To help ensure success, the workshop explored methods not only for outlining the message and style of each spot, but marketing approaches:  avenues for broadcast and more local dissemination of each PSA.

One month following the public awareness training, we returned to Cyprus for production of the four PSAs.  Based on the creative blueprints developed during our workshops, the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots arranged locations and participants for shoots in the north and south.  Over one week of beautiful weather, we shot footage for all the PSAs:  school children with and without disabilities working to expose and erase disability labels; adults with developmental disabilities claiming their right to participate in their communities; self-advocates protesting in the streets of Nicosia.  Each day’s production, usually about six or seven hours of travel and shooting, was followed by evenings of logging footage and assembling rough cuts on a Macintosh-based portable editing system.  This meant long work days, but with 75-degree weather in March, exceptional food, friendly people and a view of the mountains and ocean, one can hardly complain.

However, traveling daily through the buffer zone meant frequent stops at armed checkpoints, but this soon became routine.  The intimidating site of barbed wire and armed patrols goes back to the civil war of 1974, when Turks and Greeks fought for control of the island.  The only animosity we witnessed was between governments; the people of the north and south, both sides friendly and generous, wanted peace and the freedom to travel throughout their land.  As we were working in Cyprus just as U.S. forces began bombing Baghdad, the Cypriots understood all too clearly the disconnect between a government’s actions and the wishes of its people.

By the time we left Cyprus, rough drafts of the four PSAs were completed.  Final editing, including development of motion graphics and original music, took place over the following months in Minneapolis.  Drafts of all programs were sent to stakeholders in Cyprus for review; revisions were made, narration recorded, and final PSAs are being duplicated and delivered this month.  With the support of all participants from the workshop, the PSAs will appear on television throughout north and south Cyprus.  And if the workshops were indeed successful, participants will be ready to act on public responses to the PSAs, providing new information and opportunities to increase community participation by people with disabilities.

Jerry Smith works as a Media Producer at the Research and Training Center on Community Living at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration.  For more information on this project please contact Mary Hayden at maryfhayden@aol.com.