Disability is a subject on which it is difficult to get people to engage. No one dreams of or hopes for disability to affect their life, so it’s logical that when the subject comes up people have the tendency to shy away or change the subject. It’s simply an uncomfortable topic when you aren’t neck deep in this world. However, to make progress on topics like accessibility and discrimination, we need this conversation.
A different approach fuels hope
This past week I had the privilege to attend multiple Cincinnati’s ReelAbilities Film Festival events. What I loved most about my experience is how the festival approached disability. It was a different twist versus most other “disability-themed” events I’ve attended. It was a celebration. It was art. It was heartwarming. It was mind-bending. I left Saturday night’s closing event with a heart full of hope.
My hope came from many places. I was touched by the films. I was touched by the crowd. My heart was warmed by Raul, a boy in one of the films, who reached out and grabbed my hand and held it as we exited the theater. I was encouraged by seeing messages resonate not only within the disabled community, but also with the community at large (by the way, eleven THOUSAND people attended the festival this past week – isn’t that awesome?).
Some of the stories resonated with me directly as a parent to a child with a disability. In Courtney’s Flash Mob Movie, I found myself tearing up as a father of a child with autism spoke about the future he wants and dreams of for his child. In Ayers’ Adoption Story, I found myself hoping my daughter can follow Kara and Adam’s example as a thriving, independent, differently-abled couple and family. In A Soldier’s Story, I was reminded about how important family is in shaping a person’s abilities.
Some stories like those told in FIXED, in the Starfire Documentary, and in Believing in Hope (a film that looked at how a mother’s depression impacts her child), pushed my mind and gave me a new lens through which to look. The question Starfire is trying to resolve, “who is going to care for my child when I’m gone?” is such a huge challenge. I was touched by how difficult this transition from the day program to individual community building must be for both the people who work for Starfire, as well as for the people with disabilities who previously built their lives around the day program.
Others stories made me rejoice and filled me personally with hope and pride. Ethan’s Story made me smile because of the way it teaches kids to look at what he CAN do, and because it reminded me of the books I’ve written about Lily which have helped us enable her caregivers to understand her abilities, and which have helped us influence them to let her do as much for herself as possible. Wampler’s Ascent (Stephen Wampler’s climb of El Capitan) and the extreme outdoor camps his foundation sponsors for children with physical disabilities made me excited about Lily’s 10th birthday (7 years from now), when she will be able to attend these camps and experience the outdoors in the way he and his wife described. I mean, seriously, what is cooler than an all terrain wheelchair and seeing kids with disabilities competing to see who can build the most effective shelter?!? Also, I can’t forget seeing the family who was featured in Believing in Hope up on stage, having made some life changes and appearing happy and content – that was thrilling.
I could go on and on. There is so much I took away this week, this post is only scratching the surface.
All of stories changed me in some way.
My challenge to you is – go tell more stories. Use stories to keep the conversation around disability going. Use stories to help make the world more accessible. Use stories to inspire parents and remind the world to focus on what people CAN do rather than what they can’t.
I’m committed to telling more stories. Are you?
P.S. I love quotes. Here are a few of my favorites from this week:
- Stephen Wampler: “My dream is to inspire kids to achieve what they want in life.” and “You have a disability, that’s not going to change. I don’t care if you’re mad about it, I don’t care if you’re sad about it, you’re missing out on life.” (meaning … get out there and experience it!)
- From Courtney’s Flash Mob Movie: “What is the world you want to see? Start building it.”
- Richard Bernstein: “Those people you perceive as weak because of their physical vulnerabilities have the strongest spirit and the strongest souls and the strongest wills that you will ever come across and know. That’s the power of this film festival.”