Reelabilities: The New York Disabilities Film Festival

Three young men with disabilities on a quest to lose their virginity,  a climber with cerebral palsy makes an assent that most would not contemplate, an actor’s life turned upside down when he loses his ability to speak after a stroke, a graffiti artist who becomes paralyzed uses assistive technology to continue his art, a group of young people with developmental disabilities in Sweden challenge institutional practices and protectiveness of their parents to perform on stage, and a woman with a prosthetic hand loses it during a dance audition for a Broadway show.

Film is a powerful vehicle for  challenging stereotypes, changing attitudes and increasing awareness in a way that viewers can relate to.  That is what the founders of Reelabilities : The NY Disabilities Film Festival counted on  five years ago  UJA headquarters and  the JCC Film Program  launched an effort to use solicited, competitive, unreleased, cutting edge and sometimes controversial films to celebrate and  appreciate the lives, stories and talents of people with all abilities.  The largest disability film festival expanded beyond the NYC metro area and has launched in dozens of sites in states throughout the country over the past year.

The Importance of Tying Your Own Shoes Disabilities Special NeedsThis month, The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Montclair State University hosted the Preview showing for the launch into New Jersey with “The Importance of Tying Your Own Shoes” and “Jazz Hands”  followed by  interactive discussion led by disability studies scholars and one of the featured film actresses. Almost 200 faculty, students and community members attended the opening event.   Each site featured talkbacks with producers, actors, directors, disability specialists and others to generate discussions about the films, controversial attitudes or practices, or societal change.  Fran was interviewed on Autism Radio- Hope Save the Day ( podcast #154 at ) about the national effort which she has been involved with since its inception as a reviewer and advisory committee member. And over the past year, over a dozen other states have jumped on board to support this growing national film festival.

Having venues like college campuses and community organizations provide excellent opportunities to foster interdisciplinary discussion among students, faculty and community members  and stimulates thought provoking questions and debate.  One student studying communication disorders mentioned that throughout the entire film, he was thinking about the teenager with autism who he is a part time aide for and what he can do to identify and foster his creativity on a daily basis.  Another student reacted that this is the type of public forum and opportunity that helps to affirm his  choice to enter a human service profession.  But beyond being a professional in a disability related field, or a parent of someone with a disability,  Reelabilities has the potential to affect all of us in challenging our assumptions and bringing us together to explore, discuss and celebrate the diversity of our shared human experience.

Have you seen a film recently that includes a character with a disability that has been compelling, thought provoking or one that has challenged attitudes and stereotypes?  Please share your comments with us about the power of film as a vehicle that can be used to facilitate the inclusion of people with disabilities. Tell us about films that you’ve loved and hated….

For further information about Reelabilities, to find out where the nearest venue will be for you next year, or if you are interested in hosting a site venue  or submitting a film, go to REELABILITES.ORG

We look forward to hearing from you –


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