October 12, 2023. On the occasion of White Cane Safety Day, a day dedicated to raising the awareness of independence and mobility of individuals who are visually impaired, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, makes an appeal as the city open to be experienced rather than seen. The newest video, initiated by Go Vilnius, the official tourism and business development agency of Vilnius, was created based on the stories and experiences of the visually impaired about their city.
“Vilnius for me is a city which is built between the trees,” “Each courtyard has its own aura,” “You stand in front of the Cathedral Bell Tower and the bell is ringing over your head, and the sound is going through your whole body” — these are the words told by the narrators in the video: journalist, traveler, and singer Irma Jokštytė; poet and prose writer Alvydas Valenta, and communications manager of the Lithuanian Audiosensory Library Ramunė Balčikonienė.
Instead of the usual touristy visuals, this clip is dominated by blurry shots, leading the spectator towards the experience and an emotion. The narrative is focused not only on special personalities on screen, but also on the sense that visually impaired people rely most on — sound. Therefore, the original soundtrack was composed by the movie composer Thomas Goralski, complementing the overall atmosphere of the video.
This work is a result of international collaboration, and was created in collaboration with „Wolfstreet“ creative agency from the Netherlands, led by the director Jasper Vierboom. “Working on this project was a great example of teamwork. By talking to each other, we learned so much. We got to experience the world through different perspectives. I truly believe it’s the way we become closer as a society. To (hopefully) have contributed to this, even just a tiny bit, feels like a blessing,” shared Vierboom.
Moreover, a route called “Touch and Hear Vilnius,” designed for the visually impaired, but also available for sighted visitors, was presented during the launch of the video. An audio guide for Vilnius Old Town not only narrates the city’s history, but also provides detailed descriptions of the landmarks, along with the step-by-step navigation instructions on how to locate them.
During the launch of the initiative, Valdas Benkunskas, Mayor of Vilnius, was the one experiencing his city — maybe for the first time — without being able to see it, as he was given a tour by a visually impaired guide in Vilnius Old Town.
“We are doing our utmost to make Vilnius friendly and accessible to people of diverse backgrounds, and we are taking various steps to achieve this goal. One such step involves implementing universal design principles to ensure that both the physical and virtual aspects of the city are equally accessible to all citizens. In the meantime, this initiative serves as a meaningful and beautiful way to express our solidarity with visually impaired residents and to demonstrate that Vilnius offers a wealth of experiences, even for those who may not see them,” said Benkunskas.
Paulius Kalvelis, representative of The Lithuanian Union of the Blind and Visually Impaired, added, “We are happy that people with visual impairments can safely travel around the city, get to know Vilnius on their own, and experience historical objects speaking with people’s voices, telling the stories of their origin. Tactile models help them understand the shapes and sizes of these historical objects, and extremely accurate navigation between locations allows for a comfortable journey in exploring the city.”
This initiative is among the numerous other projects celebrating Vilnius’s 700th anniversary this year. From Lithuania’s first-ever Vilnius Biennial for Performance Art to an opera created with the assistance of artificial intelligence, the city has been brimming with cultural activity. Visitors eager to explore the birthday city can still enjoy the exhibition Vilnius Poker: The Exhibition at the modern art MO Museum until January 14.