Pace University’s Celebration of Individuals with Disabilities in Film
Film media is playing a critical role in educating the public about the lives of people with disabilities. It also plays a vital role (think: YouTube, social media) in enabling people facing disability to express their hopes and dreams. Through film they can inform the populace on what would help make a more inclusive society.
Film hasn’t always been an accurate medium for these concerns. Traditionally, Hollywood would only depict a character with a disability if a) they had an extraordinary skill (such as Rain Man, the savant) and b) only a non-disabled actor/actress would play that character. A child with Down Syndrome, for example, was generally depicted as a cute youngster, and not during the years when he/she grew into adulthood and the characteristics of Down Syndrome became more evident.
Pace University’s Celebration of Individuals with Disabilities in Film is trying to rectify this challenging situation. Organized by the Seidenberg School of Pace University and AHRC NYC, it provides an opportunity for students, faculty, community advocates and individuals with disabilities and their families, to view films, that they chose, and to participate in a thought-provoking discussion with filmmakers, city officials, and other experts (including individuals with disabilities).
Debate was ever-present and the ideas that came out of this discussion were definite gems to carry with you. Janice Chisholm, Director of NYC’s Bureau of Developmental Disabilities, urged us to understand the variety of conditions as well as the attendant abilities— make that part of your journey, she suggested. She also pointed out that some disabilities are ‘invisible,’ — we may not ‘see’ them: intellectual disabilities, or autism. While Miss You Can Do It (USA, Dir. Ron Davis) documented a beauty pageant featuring children and pre-teens with disabilities, some saw this as encouragement to parents— as one panelist noted: sometimes parents themselves don’t think their children can be successful. #