By Jewelle Saunders
“Art can transform society,” says Déborah Grández Seminario. Déborah, a 2022 YLAI Fellow, is the founder and director of CAPAZ Perú, which develops cultural, educational and social projects for people with disabilities through art programs such as theater and dance.
Growing up in Peru, Déborah noticed that individuals with disabilities were not able to easily study or create alongside their abled peers. As an artist, when she started university and saw an emphasis on humanities and cultural spaces, Déborah took the time to study disability rights and cultural rights and discover how to make creative spaces more accessible for everyone. Her fibromyalgia diagnosis after university gave her even more drive to launch CAPAZ in 2018.
Déborah spoke with the YLAI Network about her journey transforming theater in Peru, the way in which her diagnosis provided her with creative understanding, and her advice to create more inclusive organizations.
Gaining new perspectives
While in the process of receiving her Bachelor of Performing Arts from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, Déborah began to write a play about blind people that starred blind actors. In her research, she learned more about individuals with disabilities and came to better understand the concepts of inclusion and accessibility.
After seeing the success of this play, she decided to expand her research with her team to create a long-form play. It was at that time in 2016 that Déborah was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a long-term chronic condition that can cause widespread body pain, fatigue and cognitive issues.
This diagnosis caused her to pause her research and take time to learn how to live with her pain. She learned that she could not live in society the same way she had previously, and she felt a new connection to her previous play. “Fibromyalgia changed my life,” she believes. She then began to work on her physical therapy and her treatment. Fibromyalgia “was the curve that allowed me to create a great play,” she says. In 2018, after Déborah finished researching the play, it went on tour around Lima, and her team launched their production with a new name, CAPAZ (Spanish for “able”). Déborah’s entrepreneurship journey had officially begun.
Creating change for your community
Déborah is the manager, producer and director of various cultural products on disability and inclusion. In addition to managing CAPAZ’s festivals and plays, she organizes the Disability Arts Showcase Network for the Americas (DASH), as well as manages a bicentennial inclusive national event commissioned by Peru’s Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion. In all of these efforts, she is most passionate about giving confidence to the community.
“We need to live together with the community to know what they need and what they think and what is their culture,” says Déborah. “You can’t create, design or develop projects without them, because it’s not representative.”
She takes this passion to each of her projects and to her experience with the YLAI Fellowship, where she was able to network with people who are working on their own accessibility and inclusion projects trying to transform their communities. Déborah was encouraged to redesign her leadership team and bring in more voices and specialists, as having a more representative team makes for more representative programming and products.
Déborah’s aim for the future of CAPAZ involves establishing a physical space to network and hold workshops for the community. She also wants to have an impact on the structure of the educational system in Peru, to connect with and give visibility and access to people with disabilities. Now, Déborah is developing a new play about individuals living with Down syndrome.
Nothing for the community without the community
Déborah’s advice for fellow young leaders who want to make a difference in their community is that “there is nothing for the community without the community.” Providing space to learn together and create together is the way to achieve better inclusion and representation.
When talking about disability rights, Déborah emphasized “that we need to see the person first, not the disability.” When we see people and work to better understand them and their disabilities, a barrier between them disappears and opportunity emerges. “I can teach them things,” says Déborah, “but they can teach me things too.”
Déborah says that we need to work on ourselves as well, and “when we understand what we need and where we’re needed, we can begin to understand the needs of others.” When we take care of ourselves, find our passions, and find our community, it can be transformative.
Learn more about building accessible and inclusive spaces and uncover what you can do for your community with new #YLAI4All resources.
The YLAI Fellowship is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, with funding provided by the U.S. government.
The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YLAI Network or the U.S. government.