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Monday, November 21, 2011

Lives Worth Living

In one word, wow! I finally got to see Lives Worth Living the documentary about disability rights broadcast on PBS. This is an outstanding film for those intimately familiar with disability rights and those that have never been exposed to this largely disregarded part of American history. All the key figures I hoped to see were included in the film--my personal hero Ed Roberts, Judy Heumann, Fred Fay, Bob Kafka, Tom Harken and many others. I am not the least bit ashamed to say I got teary eyed a number of times. This was my history, our history on film. I carefully observed not only the important protests from the 1970s but the evolution of wheelchair technology. Yes, I saw the old clunkers Everest and Jennings manufactured for decades and compared them with modern day wheelchairs. Amazing how once the corporate monopoly Everest and Jennings exploited ended around 1980 wheelchair technology advanced by leaps and bounds. This is why I liked the film so much--it can be viewed by a person such as myself who has studied disability history and find it greatly rewarding. Yet at the same time a person with no knowledge can be introduced to the subject and come away with a basic foundation in disability rights.

All the reviews I have read are uniformly positive. Only one long review has been published to date. I am sure more are in the works. The sole long review I read, "The Promised Land Will Be Wheelchair Accessible", by Jeff Shannon was excellent. Shannon, a quad since 1978, the same year I was paralyzed, weaves in a larger discussion of disability rights into the review. I met Shannon this summer and we had a long lunch on the Seattle Waterfront. We have had similar careers, me in anthropology, Shannon in film reviewing. We have our differences but there is mutual agreement on the importance of disability rights. Given this, I was not surprised that both of us got choked up when I KIng Jordan spoke about the afternoon the ADA was signed. Jordan described the definition of the American Sign Language symbol used to express a long awaited achievement, the word "Pah". I did not know this word but as Jordan describes it and signs "Pah" I was overcome with emotion. I really am equal to others. What a feeling. I just wish the reality matched the feeling.

I do have one significant problem with the film. While righteous indignation is palatable throughout the film, I worry the uplifting end could be misleading. The culmination of the film is clearly the passage of the ADA. There is a sense among those with unfamiliar with disability that the ADA solved all our problems. Yes, Judy Heumann notes that oppression and problems still exist but that is not what many will remember. I can readily envision this film being widely show in high-schools where students will think well we solved that problem--discrimination--with the ADA. Meanwhile in the same building is a student with a disability that is segregated to a resource room and transported to school on a short so called special bus. This is discrimination and segregation in a socially sanitized and accepted form no different than what tok place before the ADA was signed into law.

2 comments:

Cait the Wild Guitar said...

I saw this wonderful film on PBS a little while ago, & it's absolutely fabulous! I give it 5 stars out of a possible 5! I took a course in disability studies during my last semester, which introduced me to the field & to the basic civil rights issues incorporated into the disability rights movement. Living in Iowa, I had a chance to speak with Senator Harkin personally at various events & I know him to be an honest, compassionate, empathetic man who truly cares about the rights of all Iowans. His amazing speech, & the beautiful words of Sen. Kennedy, moved me to tears. I think everyone should see this film, because it will raise their awareness of important disability rights issues &, most importantly, will make it clear that disability rights are as inviolable, inalienable, & necessary as any other type of civil rights & should be guaranteed to every American. Frank Fay, the star & commentator of this film, has done a great service for our country & our people. I salute him as a great American.

Ruth Madison said...

Where can I get a copy?