Telling the Story of Disability Through Film

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

A still from the short film "The Commute," directed by Jake McCafee and featured in the 2014 ReelAbilities film festival. (Youtube)

This segment originally aired live on March 5, 2014. An edited version was included in a best-of episode of The Brian Lehrer Show on May 26th. The unedited audio can be found here. 

This week marks the start of the 6th annual New York ReelAbilities Film Festival, a collection of films "dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different disabilities." Festival director and co-founder, Isaac Zablocki and co-founder, Anita Altman, discuss this year's lineup and some of the policy issues that the films present. Plus filmmaker Jake McCafee discusses his film "The Commute."

Watch: "The Commute" Directed by Jake McCafee



Anita Altman and Isaac Zablocki

Comments [25]

Barbara Fisher

Much as I'm pleased that today's program is focusing on persons with disabilities, I'd like to remind you folks that few persons are 'wheelchair bound' they're wheelchair users. It's a tool they use to perambulate just as I use my legs to walk about.

May. 26 2014 11:31 AM
Amy from Manhattan

"*All* the buses are now fully accessible"? I still see some that "kneel" but have steps, & if you have difficulty going up/down steps, that only helps you get onto the 1st step. The steps that convert to a ramp are a great invention, but not all buses w/steps have them (yet).

The other thing that bothers me is that often, when someone who uses a wheelchair needs to get on a bus, many of the other passengers (oh, I hear a caller talking about this right now!) complain about how much time it takes. It almost sounds as if they're blaming the wheelchair user. I ask them how they'd like to be the one using a wheelchair & not only needing to take that long to get on a bus but on top of that having people kvetch about it right in front of them (apparently assuming they're deaf, too).

May. 26 2014 11:30 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Sheesh. When there's a change in train service, they announce alternative ways to get where you want, but it doesn't occur to anyone to give alternatives when elevator/escalator service is out.

May. 26 2014 11:17 AM

coop apartment conversions also helped this housing shortage. The coop conversions in the 1980's are the biggest real estate scam pulled off in NY politics.
People that rent, have way more protection than coop owners. The NY Attorney Gereal refuses to enforce or get involved in the violations of NY state law. The owners have to shell out $450 an hour to a lawyer that represents the other side 90% of the time.

Apr. 23 2014 01:20 PM
Anna from Linden, NJ

I'm a TBI survivor of 12 years whose condition is serious, so serious, in fact, that I'm permanently disabled. I was struck by the inclusion of Walter Jr. on Breaking Bad because I found it so relatable. Everyone that dealt with him on a daily basis treated him just as they would any high-schooler and his behavior was age and culturally appropriate.

I have found solace in the fact that life is hard for everyone; I messed up when I was 15 by getting in the car with an unexperienced driver, but the accident doesn't define me. I'm still clever, witty, determined, logical and independent.

Mar. 05 2014 04:33 PM
Barbara Fisher

Yes, the subways, buses, public transportation, need to be more user friendly for persons with many types of disabilities and for those differently abled. Part of a solution would be to put a curriculum into the schools that would help persons to become advocates for themselves. Disabled in Action, is one such community based organization working toward that end. It's also never too early to school your children in how to navigate transportation safely...when my then 7 year old with multiple disabilities 'ran away' from home after convincing a neighbor to open the building's front door for him so he could visit his grandmother he used the subway to go from Manhattan to Brooklyn. While he couldn't yet read the signs he'd memorized the number of subway stops to get where he had to go safely. Of course it would have been nice if a 'good samaritan' noticing a child traveling alone would have said hello, asked a few friendly questions and then guided him to a police officer and thence home...but that's a mother's wishful thinking. A big part of 'the problem' is the average person's nervousness when in the presence of persons with disabilities. People. Get over it. With increasing life expectancy and the onset of old age related diseases, more and more folks who are differently abled will be in every public arena and not so easy to ignore.

Mar. 05 2014 11:55 AM
Mia from NYC

If you want to see an amazing dance performance by people with different abilities, have a look at this clip from Indian actor Aamir Khan's programme (Satyameva Jayate):

I've seen it several times and it still takes my breath away. If you want to see the whole episode (called "People with Disabilities - We Can Fly") here is the link (and it has English subtitles):

This has been a fascinating series where Aamir has produced each episode to bring about greater awareness of different situations in India, and motivate people to act for change.

Mar. 05 2014 11:43 AM

The expansion of escalators and elevators in the subway as well as the MTA wheelchair accessible buses is a boon to me in my ability to get around. I am a senior citizen with the usual limitations of old joints and arthritis. The busses are the greatest, the subways are very limited in access. People are very annoyed when I huff and puff up the stairs, holding tight to the banisters as they wish to rush by pokey me. But, what can I do, push up the stairs or stay home? Scandinavian countries seem to be aware that disabilites are part of life, and so most of their architecture and public transportation is accessible to all, young and old and disabled.
America has a lot to learn about living.
Thank you for your show this morning, very very important.

Mar. 05 2014 11:34 AM
Elinore from Zurich

As the sister of a mentally retarded woman, who is a magnificent human being, I want to thank you, Brian, for addressing difference with such openness and compassion. You make me believe that there is goodness in the world after all. Bless you Brian Lehrer!

Mar. 05 2014 11:34 AM
Kressel from Monsey, NY

I suppose I'll cause many people to want to throw up, but I liked the portrayal of Mary Ingalls on "Little House on the Prairie." The actress did research in a blind school for the role, and even though the script made her first reaction to blindness way more sudden and melodramatic than it was in the book, she did a great job on the mannerisms of blindness.

I highly recommend the books. Mary goes blind in By the Shores of Silver Lake and to the end of the series, saving to send her to the College for the Blind is a major driving force in the plot.

Mar. 05 2014 11:33 AM
Peter Richards from Manhattan‎

This is a film by Judy Lieff - she followed a young, Israel immigrant deaf poet through high school as she attended poetry slams, with her hearing-abled partner, a young Muslim girl.

An amazing story of art transcending all barriers

Mar. 05 2014 11:29 AM

If there is a Pulitzer Prize for radio call-in shows, I propose today segment on disability.
Brian Lehrer, and the people behind the scenes working with him, gave a brilliant example of what public radio can be and do for people. Thank you folks. (and I forgive you for making me weep like a baby;-)

Mar. 05 2014 11:28 AM

Shereen, I was about to write the same thing. "People first" language is very important. My child is not "wheelchair bound," he uses a wheelchair. What does one picture when hearing the phrase "wheelchair bound" vs. "uses a wheelchair?"
Thank you for this important show.

Mar. 05 2014 11:28 AM
Felix Ciprian

I wonder what are people's thoughts about the film "My Left Foot"?
I think Daniel Day Lewis gave a complicated and deep performance.

Mar. 05 2014 11:26 AM
Paul Basista from Brooklyn

Perhaps we should more about changing the wheelchair rather than modify all our subway stations , buses, bathrooms, and hotel rooms. Here is an example

Mar. 05 2014 11:25 AM
Mike from SoHo

Thank you Brian for bringing this up. You amplify people's voices in a way that is rarely seen these days. Your a gentleman and a prince.

Mar. 05 2014 11:23 AM

LANGUAGE IS IMPORTANT. In the last two minutes, Brian said "wheelchair bound." The current caller referring to the disabled as "handicapped" several times, and non-disabled people referred to as "normal," instead of "typical." And this show represents that height of political awareness, does it not?

Mar. 05 2014 11:21 AM
Marion Buhagiatr from Chelsea, Manhattan

I am a 82 year old woman who lives in Chelsea and uses a walker. On a good spring or fall day I walk 2-3 miles ---am very able and active exxcept for spinal stenosis and a balance problem. But city sidwalks are a smimply awful terrain for walkers---broken sidewalks, sidewalks that are not cleared of snow, uneven sidewalks where trees have lifted up the pavement, ramps flooded days after a rain. Of cours a winter such as the one we just have experienced amplifies the problem. For a couple of years I have thought I wanted to simply attach a camera to the front of my walker and show what you have to face--but am not ept enough with such technology. Would a film student be interested?

Mar. 05 2014 11:19 AM
khadija Boyd from Brooklyn

One of my most favorite Dance Companies.
kind regards. k

Mar. 05 2014 11:18 AM
John A

Parenthood (TV show)
Has two autistic characters, a child and an adult played by Ray Romano.

Mar. 05 2014 11:18 AM

I'd love to hear your guests revise their language from describing individuals as "bound" and/or "confined" to a wheelchair to USING a wheelchair. I believe that every nuance counts.

Mar. 05 2014 11:13 AM
J from Long Island

I am disabled. I notice that disabilities are often portrayed as only extreme cases. I have disabilities that cannot be seen. I have severe depression and a really bad history of psychological trauma from all types of child abuse. To most people I seem normal but things everywhere trigger me and I live with almost constant flashbacks that I try to hide. The stigma is huge. I am afraid for my kids if someone at school found out. They could be teased. I don't see "invisibilite" disabilities being portrayed.

Mar. 05 2014 11:08 AM

My aunt moved from Queens to San Francisco because she became restricted to a wheelchair and the A train was not accessible at all. She went to Hofstra because it was the only school with accessible classroom space.
Now, the MTA is expanding elevator service, even bringing it to smaller Queens stations (though I can't speak to the A train).

Mar. 05 2014 11:07 AM
Liz from Manhattan

Are subway stops that only have elevators from the street to the turnstile level considered handicapped accessible? How are people in wheelchairs able to get to the subway platform? This is the set-up at the 57th St. station of the N/Q/R.

Mar. 05 2014 11:05 AM
Maria from Manhattan

The film "Down to be Up" is an excellent window into the life of a vibrant young woman who has Down syndrome:

Mar. 05 2014 10:58 AM

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