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How the ReelAbilities Film Festival Is Changing Perceptions of Disability

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As the 11th Annual ReelAbilities Film Festival launches April 2 in New York at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, this is a good opportunity to let people know what ReelAbilities is all about and why it is so necessary.

ReelAbilities is the largest film festival in the world dedicated to sharing the lives and stories of people with disabilities across the spectrum. We present a diverse array of high quality films in all genres and formats taking a progressive and responsible approach towards disabilities of all kinds, with a goal to challenge and change perceptions.

We follow all screenings with conversations and include an array of independent events and artistic presentations in what has become the largest celebration of people with disabilities in New York. We love pushing the envelope and breaking taboos with unexpected depictions of disability. Our films avoid the pity effect or overly heroic, melodramatic presentations that are often manipulated in Hollywood films. We select diverse films that depict disability like never before. Our favorite films are ones where the drama is not the disability, but rather simply include people with disabilities in the well-written human dramas of life.

We partner with hundreds of organizations and highlight their work. In some ways, we see ourselves as a means to an end. The films are there to inspire change and the partners are the ones driving that change forward. Film is also a crucial tool for breaking down barriers and bridging gaps in the community. One of our goals is to reach the mainstream and open a window into the world of disability through films. Cinema is an engaging and low-barrier entry point into disability life. Corporations, schools and the general public all join together to experience these films and conversations, and leave forever changed and connected.

We also raise the bar and set an example for accessibility. All of our films are shown captioned and with audio description as well. We present the festival in dozens of locations throughout the New York Metro area in order to allow more access. We attempt to create an inclusive environment where everyone is welcome.

The festival has also grown into an international program that runs in over 20 cities across the globe. This gives these films that are often marginalized more exposure and a further life beyond the New York Festival. Organizations use our films for diversity and inclusion training and we continue to support our filmmakers beyond the festival screenings.

We have also joined the movement for further inclusion of people with disabilities in the film industry. This highly underrepresented minority is impacted in the real world by the lack of visibility on the screen and lack of authenticity in the few mainstream representations that do exist. ReelAbilities creates opportunities for inclusion and responsible representations with a goal to help level the playing field and create more access for people with disabilities in Hollywood.

Film is a powerful and popular tool that can have a deep and withstanding impact. Movies give us a frame into lives, worlds and stories which cannot always be reached through other mediums. They can be made accessible and can reach broadly and cross boundaries. Films share our human experience and unite us. ReelAbilities ultimately brings people together and makes the world a smaller place — one that includes all.

Originally published: March 20, 2019
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