Dewi Dian Reich Sawidji Gallery

Listen to the Signs, Cultivating Inclusivity

This article is written by Dewi Dian Reich. Artist and Founder of Sawidji & Co

Listen to the Signs. Learning to Hear, with Sushrusa Deaf School. In commemoration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Many are aware of how important good communication skills serve you in life. Because no man or woman is an island. We are born in communities. We are socially interactive beings in society. Our interactivity with others is a large component of our existence.

The Latin root of “communication” – communicare – means “to share” or “to be in relation with.” Through Indo-European etymological roots, it further relates to the words “common,” “commune,” and “community,” suggesting an act of “bringing together” 

Paul Cobey, Communciation: Definition and Concepts

Communication, Not Just a Word..

Our tools of communication are advancing so quickly. Some of those advancements are spectacular. We can communicate with each other across oceans in a matter of seconds. Not so long ago we wrote handwritten letters to each other. A letter that would take days or weeks to reach another country. There is an envelope it would be physically held, my handwritten communications. It would be tangible and present in the hands of my friend who would open it.

Our sophistication has created new channels to support our need for communication. We have virtual, print, televised, and radio communication. Someone on earth can communicate with someone in a space shuttle out in space. That’s pretty incredible.

Where am I going with this? These are just some thoughts that were prompted by an experience we had recently. Our tools of communication are very sophisticated. Yet, is the quality of our communications better? Does this mean that sophistication has improved better connections between people? What does it mean to communicate? Does being connected mean equally being understood? When we speak words, does it mean we are being heard?

Sushrusa Deaf School at the DNA Creative Hub

ManButur and I attended a Festival organised in honor of International Day of Persons With Disabilitie last week at the DNA Creative Hub in Denpasar Bali. We were invited by Ibu Agung Mira to be there and support the amazing children of Sushrusa Deaf School for youths, located in Denpasar. In collaboration with the Cortie Foundation, the students of Sushrusa Deaf School were involved in a series of amazing performances in honor of this International Day for persons with Disabilities.

At the Dharma Negara Alaya Creative Hub, we arrived in the morning hoping to get some backstage time when there was less hustle and bustle to take a few photos of the students as they prepared.Ibu Agung Mirah was excited all week about the kids’ performances. I had a program sent to me that was immersive and exciting. Including dance, pantomime, fashion shows and singing competitions as well.

International Day for Persons With Disabilities

This is a UN day that is celebrated every year on December 3rd. It is to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society.

International Day of People with Disability is in fact a day where people without disability is being educated. The intention of that day is not for the people with disabilities to learn something. It is showing us just how little our general public understands about those with some form of impairment.

This year, its themes are centred on “Transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fueling an accessible and equitable world.” These are not just words, but strategic solutions that require large transformations in our social and educational systems to implement.

Disability inclusion is an essential condition to upholding human rights, sustainable development, and peace and security. It is also central to the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to leave no one behind. The commitment to realizing the rights of persons with disabilities is not only a matter of justice; it is an investment in a common future

Disability is Part of All our Lives

Most of us go through our lives and are touched in one way or another by some form of disability. Whether temporary or permanent, perhaps directly or through someone we know. Yet, we likely spend very little time thinking about this in any great detail, even less likely to educate ourselves on how we can better equip our community with solutions towards inclusivity. And we have a very long way to go to make this a reality.

Listen to the Signs Cultivating Inclusivity Dewi Dian Reich
Students of Sushrusa Deaf School performing Tari Legong Condong at the DNA Creative Hub Denpasar Bali.

Barriers That need to be Dismantled

Those who live with a disability generally will face some barriers to living a ‘normal’ life. These barriers may come in the form of physical or architectural barriers. Often they will be communicational barriers. Other challenges that people with disabilities face may be technological, and organisational. Last but not least are the behaviours and attitudes of others towards their disabilities.

  • Physical or Architectural Barriers.
  • Informational or Communicational Barriers.
  • Technological Barriers.
  • Organizational Barriers.
  • Attitudinal Barriers.

Seeing that they will encounter these types of barriers, the theme of this year’s International Day for People with Disability is fantastic. Transformative and Inclusive solutions I feel is likely to be positive not only for the people with disability but in fact for the communities they live with.

The gap between technology and empathy for others is pretty wide. We are living with advanced communciations technology. And yet, here I was in an auditorium, amidst a community of talented youths that clearly shows the limitations of our sophisticated communications. Our smarts does not teach us to communicate with respect or understanding. It does not instil awareness and make us better companions to those amongst us who were born with a different burden. It does not cure our ignorance. For that it requires effort to learn. Our own effort to care.

Children with hearing impairment and other forms of disabilities have a myriad of additional challenges to face in life to thrive. They are dynamic, full of talent and deserve equal rights to quality education. I was moved throughout their performances by their tangible courage and vibrant positivity.

Listen to the Signs, a Meaningful Message

One of the cherished memories I have from this day, is the quiet of the room. Although full of people doing many activities, I noticed the quiet. Despite the many bodies moving, busy with their preparations. The low hum of sounds was full of seamless communication. Through so many other ways, they communicated with each other, in a quiet and familial way. I stood in that space and I was a person standing on the outside looking in, and I saw real bonds, trust and harmony. Is this what lies at the centre of a true community?

The other is the overwhelming emotion we all felt in the audience as we watched their performances. Performances of dance and song that embodied so much more. The fullness of their hearts was in their songs and dance. Full of vitality and courage. To witness this is a blessing and an honour. If we ever felt small hearted or despairing. The courage and fortitude of their songs is a memory that will remind me always to get up and keep going with gratitude and joy.

Conformity is not Equality

When the world is moving fast set by the pace of our technology, I imagine the Sushrusa Deaf School Students has to find their way to live in this world, not just to survive but thrive as well. There is concensus that yes, persons with disability have impairment that makes it more difficult to go through their lives. However, this does not make them inferior. It makes them stronger.

Societies are always pushing those that are different to conform. To conform to the way of the majority. So the children of the silence must learn to live in a noisy, busy world. Yet, by rule of inclusivity, should we not make an effort to adapt to their world also? A world where the silence speaks to us in signs? This is where inclusion begins, not just integration.

What is inclusion in education?

Inclusive education – also called inclusion – is education that includes everyone, with non-disabled and Disabled people (including those with “special educational needs”) learning together in mainstream schools, colleges and universities. This means the system must adapt to include Disabled people – they should not have to adapt to the system.


With the guidance of inclusivity, we should look at this from an equal footing. We have much to learn to adapt our world to be one of equality. It is our world that needs to transform. Perhaps we can begin by offering sign language as a subject in all schools. To take steps toward a future for our communities that embodies equality. So our young generation will see in each other the individual, not the disability. True equality for those persons with disabilities to be treated without social stigma but instead with respect and empathic equality.

Sawidji Gallery with Ibu Gusti Agung Mirah Cortie Foundation Sushrusa Deaf School
With Ibu Agung Mirah and Sushrusa Deaf School students backstage before their performances.

Listen to the Signs, Learning to Say I Love You

I’ll end this article by sharing a little of a new language that I learned this day. Ibu Agung Mirah gave us a quick lesson on Sign Language.

🤟 in ASL (American Sign Language) means ‘I Love You’

The little finger is for the letter ‘I’. The index finger and thumb stands for the letter ‘L’.. The thumb and little finger forms a Y. So, together this says 🤟’I love you’

Since communication is one of the most important skills we need for a truly integrated and inclusive society, we can start by learning a few words for our friends who cannot hear our words. But we can speak the same language if we listen to the signs.

Sawidji Gallery Listen to the Signs Dewi Dian Reich
Sushrusa Deaf school performing pantomime on International Day for Persons with Disabilities


  1. Thanks for this important piece. I loved learning how to say “l love you” in sign language!!😊😘

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