The international transmedia storytelling project empowers individuals with disabilities to tell their own stories to the world
According to the 2011 World Report on Disability authored by the World Health Organization and the World Bank, more than 1 billion people – or approximately 15% of the world’s population – live with a disability. Add family members, friends and acquaintances of those struggling with a disability, and virtually everyone on our planet knows or loves someone with a disability. Yet their stories are rarely heard and, when they are told, individuals with disabilities are most often treated as objects to be pitied rather than as full human beings.
SFTV Professor Gregory Ruzzin has taken on the noble mission of ensuring that every voice is heard. In 2012, Ruzzin made the documentary Lost Child? about his sister Alyssa, who was diagnosed with a developmental disability, and her incredible push against the stigmas of disability. Although society may perceive her disability as a crutch, Alyssa has used it as a blessing and a tool to show how resilient and capable individuals with disabilities truly are. Alyssa lives on her own and works at a grocery store, Jewel-Osco, which provides her with many meaningful social interactions.
Ruzzin’s documentary shed a much-needed light on one story, but he isn’t finished yet. After seeing Lost Child?, Professor Victoria Graf of the School of Education (SOE) asked Ruzzin to produce a new documentary, THE MAGIC CHAIR Project, about St. Declan’s School, a groundbreaking Jesuit school in Dublin, Ireland, and its dedicated teachers, who have been designing innovative and transformative programs for students with special needs for almost 60 years. Ruzzin’s first visit to the school lasted only one week but the experience signified an important landmark for him – Lost Child? wasn’t the destination; it was only the beginning.
While a documentary is a great manner of sharing knowledge, it can lack the intimate feel of personal experience. Simply telling these stories isn’t enough; everyone must join the conversation. This need for expansion and involvement spawned THE MAGIC CHAIR Project, a multi-year, international transmedia storytelling project that empowers individuals with disabilities, educators and families to tell their own stories.
“THE MAGIC CHAIR Project provides an opportunity for individuals challenged by disabilities to tell their own stories to the world, to share their insights and achievements with those who may have never considered what it means to live the life of ‘other,'” says Ruzzin. “Guided by our motto, ‘Nothing about us without us,’ the project aims to become the definitive voice for individuals with disabilities and to bring their stories to a larger audience so that the world can benefit from their extraordinary abilities.”
Today, Ruzzin and project partners Professors Victoria Graf and Becky Stephenson of SOE announced the launch of THE MAGIC CHAIR interactive website. The site will feature stories, photos, and videos contributed by THE MAGIC CHAIR Community, as well as curated blogs about disability rights issues and education, and monthly “prompts” designed to focus the conversation around specific themes. Professor Graf’s original impulse to make a documentary film is still and integral part of THE MAGIC CHAIR Project, and the project expands onto the big screen soon with the release of a moving documentary film made with and about the students of the St. Declan’s School (release date TBA).
Visit the website and join the conversation here.