Fifth annual film festival celebrates people with disabilities in film

The fifth annual Celebration of Individuals with Disabilities in Film celebrated those with disabilities took place on March 23, 2017. Organized by Seidenberg School professor of Disabilities Studies and Information Technology, Dr. James Lawler, the event centered around the screening of several narrative short films and documentaries and a panel discussion including expert speakers.

At the reception, huge buckets of popcorn were available as people got in the mood for movies. The event was kicked off by opening remarks from Dr. Lawler, and Seidenberg School Dean, Dr. Jonathan Hill. Six short films were screened, including Stutter, Anna, Children of God, Dancing on Wheels, Picked, and 4 Quarters of Silence. Each film dealt with different themes, and were about characters with disabilities. The films were thoughtful and poignant, and offered a fresh perspective we see far too little in mainstream media.

Discussions with the panel were interspersed between screenings. Audience members were welcome to share their own experiences with disability, and many did. Films representing members of society that do not fit a particular mode are rare, and many people appreciated seeing themselves or their friends represented on the big screen.

Panel speakers were Victor Calise, Commissioner at the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities; Allan B. Goldstein, Senior Lecturer, New York University; Maria Hodermarska, Parent and Teacher, New York University; Gary Lind, Executive Director, AHRC New York City; Marilyn Jaffe-Ruiz, Professor Emerita, Pace University; and Isaac Zablocki, Co-Founder and Director, ReelAbilities: New York Disabilities Film Festival.

They discussed a variety of topics, including the lack of positive media representation for people with disabilities. Although there has been a gradual change to include more people with disabilities in film and television, many disabled characters are played by able-bodied actors rather than people who actually have the disability portrayed. “We have a long way to go,” remarked Victor Calise, “but I think that conversations are starting . . . people want to see people with disabilities in film and televisions.”

One of the great things about this particular event is the sense of community and support that fills the room as conversations are had and experiences are shared. The event is held in partnership with AHRC New York City and the ReelAbilities: New York Disabilities Film Festival. We encourage you to visit their websites and learn more.

Thanks go to our wonderful panelists, the teams behind the making of the movies, the Dean for Students for the kind sponsorship, and of course Dr. James Lawler for making this happen for another year. We’re already looking forward to next year and hope to see you there!

Melanie Greene and Dr. James Lawler present inclusion programs for students with disabilities

By Melanie Greene

It was an honor to attend  the Faculty Resource Network’s National Symposium in Atlanta in November. I co-presented with Dr. James Lawler on inclusion programs for students with disabilities in the Seidenberg School. I spoke about the class I took with Dr. Lawler (CIS 102w Web Design for a Not-for-Profit Organization), mentoring students in AHRC’s junior high school and high school programs (they had different levels of autism; one was more severe than the other), mentoring and tutoring Adil Sanai, tutoring his students last semester in his two CIS 102w courses, the two research projects we worked on together, and being a co-moderator for the Disability Film Festival. I got the chance to speak about all of my experiences that I have had working with people with disabilities.

I am uplifted and inspired by Dr. Lawler’s drive and commitment to give people with disabilities access to a college education. I support everything that he is doing.​ I get very emotional talking about all the adventures and learning experiences I have had with Dr. Lawler – they have been life changing opportunities that affect me deeply.

During the conference, we went to three different schools: Morehouse College (an all-male college where Dr. Martin Luther King went), Spelman College (all-female college), and Clark Atlanta University (co-ed).  All of the schools were beautiful, it was a privilege to visit them. I got choked up when we went to Morehouse College because Dr. King went there. I felt like I was walking through history. At the school they had a picture of President Obama delivering the Commencement speech in 2013 and I was in awe: both President Obama and Dr. Martin Luther King’s presences were there.

At the conference, I got the chance to meet other professors from schools  in NY, Atlanta, Hawaii, and others. I enjoyed listening to their research and learning about how we could use social media and technology platforms to teach millennials.

Dr. Lawler and I went to a delicious Italian restaurant one night and a Brazilian restaurant (it was my first time going to a Brazilian restaurant). We invited a professor from Spelman College that I met to join us for dinner, which was a lot of fun. One night our bus broke down which was an experience in itself. The bus was literally like the engine that could. When we broke down one professor started to play Bob Marley “Don’t Worry” and we all chimed in – it was priceless. The bus kept trying to get us all back to the hotel, but unfortunately it failed. We had to walk back to the hotel. On our final day we visited the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. I was overwhelmed with emotion, I had the chills the whole time – history was brought to life. To walk where Dr. King walked, to stand in the area where he preached in Ebenezer Baptist Church, to see the pole in the firehouse where he played on as a child, and lastly to see his grave was indescribable.

My favorite part of the trip was having the privilege to present with Dr. Lawler.  This certainly is a weekend that I will never forget. I thank Dr. Lawler and the Seidenberg School for giving me the opportunity to attend this conference. I will always cherish the incredible memories from this trip.