If there's one thing I've learned from the extraordinary short film My Disability Roadmap, it's to not refer to 21-year-old Samuel Habib as "cute."
Okay, that's not actually the only thing I took away from this engaging and spirited 22-minute short film that had its world premiere at Hot Docs and is set to screen at Indy's own Academy Award qualifying Indy Shorts from July 19-24th at multiple venues around town. The truth is that I took away a myriad of life lessons thanks to Habib's willingness to put it all out there as a young adult preparing for that transition from what he call childhood into the world of being an adult living with complex disabilities.
It's a precarious world.
Samuel is a 21-year-old community college student living with cerebral palsy and epilepsy in Concord, New Hampshire. Throughout his entire K-12 education, Samuel was included in regular classes along side his nondisabled peers. He played sports, attended his high school prom, got his high school diploma, and now attends community college. While he's the primary subject of My Disability Roadmap, he's also the film's co-director alongside his filmmaker father Dan Habib (Including Samuel). In the film, Samuel is looking at the path forward with some degree of uncertainty, a desire to date, leave home, and go to college seemingly challenged by his 350-pound wheelchair that doesn't exactly transport or enter his friends' homes easily, the communication device that affords him connection but not always at the pace of most everyday conversations, and the 24/7 support he requires because of those complex health issues and the fact that he could have a seizure at any moment.
Instead of giving up on his dreams, Samuel enlists a few of his newest friends and some of America's most rebellious disability activists.
There's disability rights icon Judy Heumann, whose birth in 1947 preceded nearly all disability rights legislation including IDEA - the basic right to a free and appropriate education for students with disabilities that is tailored to their needs (Critic's Note: I myself was in the very first "mainstreaming" class here in Pike Township in my hometown of Indianapolis). If there's been movement forward in disability in the last 50 years, there's a pretty good chance that Heumann was involved in it.
There's actress Ali Stroker here, the first performer to appear on a Broadway stage using a wheelchair along with the first to be nominated for and to win a Tony Award for her work in the Broadway revival of Oklahoma!.
Samuel stops by to chat with Lydia X.Z. Brown, a disability rights activist, writer, attorney, and public speaker with autism whose work focuses on addressing state and interpersonal violence targeting disabled people living at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, faith, language, and nation.
I can't forget Maysoon Zayid, an actress, comedian, and activist whose global work astounds.
Adding some levity but slamming with seriousness, Keith Jones shows up and offers his own perspectives on sexuality and relationships.
Seriously, this is one awesome effort.
Refreshingly, but unsurprisingly given the talent and crew present here, My Disability Roadmap is devoid of the usual "inspiration porn," a term coined by the late disability rights activist Stella Young, and includes an uncomfortably cringeworthy scene at an airport that should serve as one of the film's most valuable points for conversation.
There's simply so much to love here.
Yes, I'll confess to perhaps a little bit of bias as a leading disabled film journalist living as a paraplegic/double amputee with spina bifida. Practically every moment of My Disability Roadmap resonated deeply and I couldn't but wish we all could reach out to grab the support we need to make the often difficult transition from childhood to our young adult years. However, personal connection to the film aside My Disability Roadmap is also a well-informed, insightful, and entertaining short film that tackles serious topics in an accessible way.
I suppose the accessible part shouldn't surprise me.
The entire lead cast on this project - and the majority of the production and outreach crew - are people with disabilities. Behind the scenes folks include co-executive producers Sara Bolder and James Lebrecht (both of Crip Camp fame) along with Max Avery Lichtenstein and Keith Jones contributing the film's spot-on music.
"Nothing about us...without us" has become an almost primal scream to combat disability oppression and My Disability Roadmap leans into this message powerfully and in a way that empowers, educates, and invites dialogue. With plans for a feature film to arrive in 2023, My Disability Roadmap is easily one of 2022's most impactful shorts and I can't wait for more to arrive next year. For now, be sure to check out the film at Indy Shorts.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic