by Ellen Sullivan
From the Editor: Ellen Sullivan is the secretary/treasurer in the National Federation of the Blind of Delaware. At a seminar for communications directors held in February of 2017, Ellen saw the documentary she reviews. Here is her description of what she saw, along with the insights she brings about blindness and the way blind children are too often treated by the education system in America:
Sitting in the film auditorium of the Jernigan Institute, I was waiting for my exhausting day to end. Chris Danielson stepped up to the podium and told us about these California film students, Abigail Fuller and Sarah Ivy, who had made this documentary film in order to graduate from college. My reaction: oh no—another amateurish attempt to capture the lives of blind people—but it was anything but that.
The documentary takes us into the lives of four blind teenagers whose hopes and aspirations are frustrated by the persistent failure of the education system to provide them with the tools they need and have a legal right to in order to succeed as blind people.
First we meet “Skateboarder Connor” who glides down the sidewalks of his town with an amazing sense of rapture and freedom. He sneaks into his school grounds with his friend Mira to practice some stunning feats with his skateboard. What does Connor want? He wants to be accepted by the town’s elite skateboarding club.
Next we meet Sarah “Destination Portugal.” Sarah excels in school especially in her Spanish class. Sarah, whose Portuguese mother died when she was five years old, longs to visit her mother’s homeland. Sarah wants to study overseas in Portugal during her senior year in high school, and she has all the right credentials, but she is blind.
Carina “the prom queen” is a lovely Hispanic teenager who wants to graduate from high school and attend college. When her public school fails to live up to its commitment on her IEP (Individualized Education Plan) her mother, an undocumented immigrant, is afraid to fight the system for fear she will lose Carina in the process.
Lastly we meet rock star Nick, who wants to be an “awesome drummer” and part of his own band and is thwarted in his aspirations by a school system that fails him when he moves from middle to high school. They don’t want a blind child in their high school and thus force his mother into a court battle while Nick waits it out on the sideline—literally—he is not allowed to attend school for months.
These riveting stories let us know that sighted people just don’t believe in the true capabilities of blind people. They continuously underestimate the abilities of blind students and fail to accept that blind people have dreams too, just as full of depth and color as those of the sighted. Equally unfortunate is the realization that with opportunity the dreams of blind people can come true as often as the dreams of their sighted friends and neighbors.
While I doubted the filmmakers early on, they honestly and openly captured the emotional turmoil many blind students experience. These students see themselves and their hopes and dreams as “normal” and attainable with passion and hard work. It was heartbreaking to watch their struggles and inspiring to see their determination.
This is a great film for both blind and sighted people alike. It demonstrates to sighted parents, friends, and teachers how human and capable their blind counterparts truly are. For sighted people who may be unintentionally holding blind students back, this film serves as a wake-up call for the way they can support, enable, and inspire blind students to live their dreams.
The movie ends with a poignant scene of Sarah standing at the edge of the ocean with her arms spread saying “I can see everything; I just need to be up close to feel it.”
Editor’s Note: It is clear from this review that many of us should see the movie and should view it as a call to action in reforming the education systems where we live. Screenings are available on request. Contact Chris Danielsen at [email protected]. We should take this opportunity to show this movie to friends and relatives and to recruit large venues where chapter members and their friends can see it.