ReelAbilities Film Festival Closing Night: Recap

Reel Abilities Film Festival logo

Wish you saw more people with disabilities in the movies? Me too. That’s why, on Monday, March 2nd, I attended the closing night of the 4th Annual ReelAbilities Boston Film Festival at Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. Four short international films were shown that evening, followed by a Q&A with one of the filmmakers.

The first film Keep the Change centers on a couple, David and Sarah, who meet at a support group for people with disabilities. David has high-functioning autism, which he tries hard to hide. Sarah has autism as well, but is much more comfortable with it. They quickly hit it off, but David’s efforts to impress Sarah while concealing his autism come across as snobbish and upper-class. When Sarah wants to take a bus to get to the city, David insists on taking a cab because the bus is for “poor people.” He nonchalantly hands the cab driver a $20 bill and says, “Keep the change.”

When his behavior eventually hurts Sarah’s feelings and she leaves to take the bus home, David hops on the bus to talk to her. But here we learn that David avoids buses for a reason – the reason being that he’s unable to count change. When Sarah realizes this, she gently helps him count out his fare and leads him to the seat next to hers. What I took away from this is that everyone has their own struggles; sometimes trying to conceal them only leads to more problems.

The second film Just As I Remember is much more sobering. This film, created by Andrew Moir, features two families with fathers who have ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease), an ultimately fatal disease. First, Andrew’s own father was diagnosed with ALS when the filmmaker was four years old. His only memories of his father without ALS are through old pictures and home videos. Today, Andrew’s father lives on a ventilator, almost completely paralyzed and communicating with eye blinks. When asked why he chose to go on the ventilator that keeps him alive, his answer is extremely simple and poignant: he wanted to be around for his family.

We also meet David, a father of three young children. Even though David uses a wheelchair, one almost forgets he has ALS as they watch him play with his children and read to them before bed. These happy scenes are a stark contrast to the subdued David in personal interviews. Not knowing how long he has to live, he expresses sadness about not watching his children grow up. However, unlike Andrew’s father, David has decided not to use a ventilator once he stops being able to breathe on his own. I already knew there wouldn’t be a happy ending, but I still had tears in my eyes when I learned David had passed away three months after filming.

The third film Sounds for Mazin is a thought-provoking piece on how receiving a cochlear implant (a surgically implanted device that produces a sense of sound for those with profound hearing loss) impacts relationships with family and friends. It centers on a young boy, Mazin, who attends a school for the deaf in the Netherlands. Mazin has been deaf since birth, and is excited to hear for the first time – and so are his hearing family, who are eager to communicate with him more easily. But Mazin’s closest friend, Katelin, who is Deaf and received a cochlear implant a year ago, says it failed to help and made her nauseous. She communicates through sign language and frets that Mazin will abandon her for his hearing friends once he receives the implant.

A few weeks after Mazin undergoes the operation, his cochlear implant is turned on. Voices sound squeaky and robotic at first, but then become more natural over time. As someone who received a cochlear implant, I can vouch that this is accurate and am impressed that the film captured it so well. Eventually, he’s able to identify the rustling of wrapping paper, hear his dad’s cell phone ringtone, and chat with his family at the dinner table. However, at the end of the film, when Mazin chats with his hearing friends about his cochlear implant, it’s clear from Katelin’s expression that she feels left out. While Mazin’s cochlear implant has opened up his world, it changes his relationships in more ways than one.

The last film Stumped features the incredible recovery of a fellow Bostonian, Will Lautzenheiser. While teaching filmmaking and screenwriting in Montana, Will is afflicted with a group A bacterial strep infection. In a fight to save his life, his doctors are forced to amputate both his arms and legs. The film follows his physical and emotional rehabilitation. Gradually, Will regains strength and adjusts to his new body, figuring out how to get out of bed and get dressed on his own. We see him learning to walk on a treadmill with prosthetic legs. He also uses a prosthetic arm to feed himself, but becomes frustrated with the prosthetic’s limitations.

However, what is the most fascinating about Will’s recovery is that he actually channels his experiences into stand-up comedy (or “sit-down comedy,” as he calls it), despite never doing comedy before his illness. He performs and hosts his own shows and puts people at ease by laughing at his own disability. His resilience is probably part of what makes him such a good candidate for the first successful double-arm transplant, which he received in October 2014 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. I actually got to see Will’s new arms firsthand, since he was gracious enough to do a Q&A session with the audience after showing his film. He can hug his partner again and apparently he’s starting to have feeling in his new hands!

The ReelAbilities Film Festival is an annual event intended to promote “awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different disabilities.” This year, it ran in Boston from February 19th to March 2nd. If you missed the Reelabilities Film Festival this year, no worries – it’ll be back!

MHC Peer Leaders help host a Valentine’s Dance

MHC Peer Leaders at the Valentine's DanceIn early February, there was a new event out in western Massachusetts for local teens with disabilities: a Valentine’s Dance! The Dance that was held on February 6th in Holyoke, and five Making Healthy Connections Peer Leaders volunteered to help lead activities with their peers at this event. In addition, MHC participants attended the dance alongside a lively group of youth from throughout Hampshire and Hampden Counties. A great time was had by all! During the dance, parents had an opportunity to meet at a nearby location and discuss resources.

This dance was hosted by the newly formed Interagency Transition Team of Hampden and Hampshire Counties, which is committed to developing partnerships with community based agencies in order to develop a common working knowledge on the best practices to support families in an individualized and seamless transition into adulthood. The Transition Team is comprised of educators and professionals working in the field of disability, and includes staff from JERICHO, The Bureau for Exceptional Children & Adults, the Westfield Public Schools, the Agawam Public Schools, The Carson Center for Human Services, CHD’s Disability Resource Program, and Partners for Youth with Disabilities.

We hear again and again that youth with disabilities in western Massachusetts are eager for more social opportunities, and this Valentines Day dance was a wonderful example of what can be done with collaboration. The Transition Team looks forward to planning additional social events this spring and continuing our work together to support successful transitions for youth with disabilities.

To learn more about the Springfield branch of Making Healthy Connections, visit our website or contact Susan Nicastro, the MHC Springfield program director, at 617-556-4075 x13 or

Youth & Family Disability Resources: March 2015

Hey PYD community!  Spring starts on March 21st.  We’re super excited, even though there’s still snow on the ground.

Here’s our list of fun things to do this month (along with a separate section on summer job/internship and scholarship opportunities!).

Ignore the Snow, Embrace More Hours of Daylight!

CraftBoston Spring Show. Tomorrow, check out awesome crafts from 90 artists at The Cyclorama at The Boston Center for the Arts! Spend the day looking at and learning about contemporary craft, meet the artists, and take home a work of art!

FREE Sensory-Friendly Showing of “Cinderella.” Thanks to Sophie’s Promise and the Commonwealth Financial Group, Regal Cinemas in Swansea will present a sensory-friendly showing of “Cinderella” on from 12:00pm-2:00pm on Saturday, March 21st. Lights will be left on in the theater and the sound will be turned down during the movie. Kids will be free to get up and move around. Best of all, it’s FREE OF CHARGE to children with special needs and their families!

Men for Mentoring Night. 80% of our waitlisted mentees are male and request male mentors. Help us get them off the waitlist! Attend our Men for Mentoring Night next Thursday, March 26th and bring one or more male guests with you!  The more men you bring, the more chances you get to enter our raffle for an awesome prize.  Not to mention there’ll be plenty of food and good times.  Go ahead and RSVP!

Beeping Egg Hunt at Perkins School for the Blind. Perkins School for the Blind is partnering with the Massachusetts Association of Parents of the Visually Impaired to host an awesome Beeping Egg Hunt for kids with visual impairment at 10:30am on Saturday, March 28th! This event is FREE. Register online.

Community Partners Day at the Museum of Science.   The Museum of Science is hosting a Community Partners Day from 10:00am-5:00pm on Saturday, March 28th! All registered attendees receive up to 4 FREE adult and/or children exhibit hall passes per reservation. Register for Community Partners Day by 5pm on March 26.

Be a Camper at Camp Shriver! Camp Shriver (at both UMass Boston and Stonehill College locations) is a fabulous inclusive summer sports day camp for kids aged 8-12 with and without mild intellectual/developmental disabilities! Camp Shriver is FREE after you pay a $25 registration fee.  Learn more about the camp and apply by April 1st.

SPaN 5th Annual School Fair for Parents of Children with Disabilities. The Special Advocacy Network is hosting the 5th Annual School Fair for parents of children with disabilities at 8:15am-12:45 pm on Thursday, April 2nd. The fair will take place at the Best Western Royal Plaza in West Marlboro, MA. Learn more about the fair and register online.

Boston Ballet at the Strand Theatre. See the Boston Ballet for just $5 at the Strand Theatre at 7pm on Friday, April 10th! You’ll get to see amazing performances, including one from the Boston Ballet’s Adaptive Dance program. Get your tickets online today!

Wings for Autism. Travel is stressful in general but can be particularly stressful for families who have a child with special needs. Wings for Autism events are a FREE OF CHARGE “test run” through the airport boarding process specifically designed for families who have a child with an autism spectrum disorder. Families can practice the ticketing process, going through security, waiting in the terminal, and boarding the plane. The next Wings for Autism event is at 9:00am on Saturday, April 11th, and will be located at Logan Airport, Terminal E. If you’re interested, RSVP online!

Free Thursdays at the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA). Explore the ICA for FREE any Thursday night, 5:00-9:00pm, this month and check out two of the museum’s newest exhibits: “When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South” and Sonic Arboretum.

Free Film Fridays at the Museum of Science.  All IMAX® films in the Mugar Omni Theater each Friday in March (6, 13, 20, and 27) are free! You can check out upcoming showtimes online. Pick up tickets at the Museum box office on the day of the show only (first come, first served). Museum members may reserve tickets starting on the Monday prior to each Friday’s showings by calling Science Central at 617-723-2500.

…And Other Free Museum Days in Boston.  If the ICA or the Museum of Science don’t float your boat, check out free admission days for these other local museums!

Massachusetts Department of Public Health Survey. Help the Massachusetts Department of Public Health improve their services for families of youth with special health care needs! They’re conducting a confidential and anonymous survey of families of children and youth with special healthcare needs aged up to 24 years. It should only take 15-20 minutes to complete and you have the chance to enter a raffle for one of 20 $50 gift cards. Note: The online survey is in English only. If you’d like a paper copy of the survey (in English or Spanish) or have any questions, please call 617-624-5478 or send an email to

 Want Something New to Add To Your Resume?

Summer Jobs Workshop.  In order to help prepare our mentees for employment, we are holding a Summer Job Workshop at the PYD office on Saturday, March 28th from 10am-12pm. Refreshments will be provided! We’ll discuss tips on completing applications, writing a resume, preparing for an interview, and employment resources. If you have a resume, bring it to the workshop and we can help you with edits. Contact Rivka Barrett at or 617-556-4075 x19 for more information or to RSVP. We hope to see you there!

Access to the World Scholarships. Hey college students with disabilities! Interested in studying abroad but worried about the expense? Apply to one of these  25 CIEE/MIUSA Access to the World Scholarships to help cover costs! The deadline for all applications is April 1st.

Apply to be a Counselor or Educational Intern at Camp Shriver! Camp Shriver is also seeking counselors and educational interns to work with their campers! The educational intern application is due April 1st, and the counselor application is due April 15th. Learn more about both positions on the Camp Shriver website.

2015 Lime Connect Fellowship Program. Lime Connect and its corporate partners welcome undergraduate college sophomores/rising juniors to join their 2015 Lime Connect Fellowship Program for Students with Disabilities! The Fellowship Program is one year long. It provides awesome workshops, leadership/skill building, interview prep, and more! Apply for this exciting opportunity by April 5th.

Volunteer Expo at the Prudential Center. Looking for a chance to volunteer and find ways to do good in Boston? Check out the 10th Annual Volunteer Expo at the Prudential Center on Thursday, April 9th! It’ll be from 5:30-7:30pm. There’ll be snacks from Qdoba and Wagamama, and lots of cool people from Boston nonprofits who are eager to chat with you … and PYD has a table! Come by, even if it’s just to say hello.

Youth Leadership Forum. Haven’t applied yet for Easter Seals Massachusetts’ Youth Leadership Forum? No worries, you still have until May 15th! Attend an overnight conference for youth and young adults with disabilities, sleep in dorms at Bridgewater State, and learn about advocacy, independent living, and more!

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