Podcaster and Writer
January - April 2023
- Social Sciences and Humanities
- Los Angeles
- New York
- San Francisco
“I would like to imagine that my podcast speaks a universal language, because there are no borders to the challenges of disability.”
I have always been interested in the ways our origins influence who we are. Born in Paris in 1994 of immigrant parents (ex-USSR and Canada), I studied cinema, anthropology and psychology at University of Montréal and acting and dramaturgy at École du Jeu in Paris. Since my late teens, I have traveled throughout Asia and the Americas, mostly alone, for artistic projects.
I wrote and directed a family drama and later in Quito, Ecuador I led a 4-month theatre project with children who have cognitive disabilities. I also began to develop a serious interest in portrait photography. In the US, I was involved in the production of plays and musicals and helped make an award-winning movie in Vermont, “Best Summer Ever”, by Michael Randa and Lauren Smitelli. In France, I assisted Mariana Loupan in the writing and directing of her documentary “Anton’s Journey”.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, unable to travel, I wrote a piece about my family that changed many things in my life. “In Lockdown with Special Needs” was picked up by Huffington Post France and triggered a considerable response, revealing a necessity to speak up. It led me to self-produce a French podcast called “Décalés” (“Out of Sync”) a free platform for open conversations about living with mental or physical disabilities. It has become an important part of the public discussion about inclusion and is used as resource for people with a variety of challenges, for families, professionals, students, researchers, people who are not familiar with this world, as well as in curricula.
Since the creation of her podcast “Décalés”, Léa Hirschfeld has become increasingly active in the public representation of disability. She has given a variety of talks and been interviewed by Brut, Le Figaro, France Inter and other press. Her focus on disability in the context of family relationships and cultural influences and the response it has engendered is testimony to the importance of dealing openly and creatively with this inexhaustible subject. Her work also includes writing and photography. With her residency at the Villa Albertine in 2023, her podcast will become bilingual and expand its horizons.
I was 18, living on my own and trying to make sense of life, above all the experience of growing up with an older brother who has a cognitive disability, when I discovered Zeno Mountain Farm in Vermont.
Zeno’s mission is to support lifelong friendships and opportunities in a community that brings together people with and without disabilities (50/50). For one month, adults of all ages and backgrounds come from across the country to live and collaborate. It is non-medical, secular and free. It is a quest for an ideal society based on inclusion, sharing and acceptance. We cook, clean, go to concerts, engage in adaptive sports and produce musicals. Zeno Mountain Farm is a place that was built to last: participants are invited back year after year. It becomes a home away from home, a chosen family, for all.
After sharing with siblings in the first season of “Décalés” and with people with disabilities in the second, it feels natural to share the unique stories of the people I have met in this somewhat utopian place.
My project will take place throughout America, where Zeno members and their families live. Having gotten to know this community since 2015, I am interested in sharing about their upbringing and day-to-day lives and talking about how experiencing a place where everyone belongs can radiate throughout the year.
“Décalés” is built on encounters that can only take place in an environment of trust. Building trust means sharing up-close, in person. To respect the participants’ intentions and truths, I need to understand who they are and how and where they live.
My itinerary will include: Lincoln VT, Boston MA, NYC, Wilmington NC, Atlanta GA, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
I would like to imagine that Zeno can be an inspiration. I would like to imagine that my podcast speaks a universal language, because there are no borders to the challenges of disability.
Zeno Mountain Farm
The mission of Zeno Mountain Farm is to support lifelong friendships and opportunities for people with and without disabilities and other marginalized communities. We host annual retreats and camps at our home base in Lincoln, VT. Currently, we have 12 different retreats throughout the year spanning over 100 days. The goal at Zeno is to create a world where all can thrive, feel connected, and be empowered. We believe people do not need to be “fixed”. Rather, we need to create a world where everyone has access to these opportunities. At Zeno, the diverse abilities of our group enhance everything we do. Art projects, sports, traveling, theater, film, and just hanging out are all enriched by our integrated group. We host a wide variety of camps and retreats throughout the year. This is where we live the Zeno model of community.
Unapei is an associative network that brings together more than 330 associations of parents and friends of people with disabilities in France. For more than 60 years, they have been innovating in all territories for and with people with intellectual disabilities in order to make society more united and inclusive.