How This 27-Year-Old Filmmaker Is Helping People With Disabilities Own Their Narratives

August 28, 2017

Reid Davenport, 27, was born with cerebral palsy and has dedicated his life to giving more people like him who are living with a disability a voice in today’s narrative. Just named one of Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30,” Davenport was profiled in a recent story by Karim Abouelnaga , who follows how millennials find purpose as CEO of Practice Makes Perfect .
“For a while, I watched news and documentaries that portrayed people with disabilities as inspirational tropes, passive bystanders or villains,” Davenport said. I was none of the above. I had a story and was living with a disability.” According to a 2011 United Nations report, there are over a billion people in the world living with a disability, almost 200 million experience very significant difficulties.

“The increasing prevalence of social media and the need for the broader public to understand that people with disabilities are not all either inspirational, passive or villains makes me believe that people with disabilities can take back the narrative by sharing their own stories through video and streaming on platforms like Facebook,” says Davenport. Now there are over 2 billion monthly active Facebook users, of which one billion are daily active users.

Davenport started making films about people with disabilities almost seven years ago, after he was discouraged from studying abroad in Europe because of its lack of wheelchair accessibility. “Instead of quenching my desire to explore Europe, I applied for the Luther Rice Collaborative Fellowship to travel to western Europe and document my experience and the lack of physical accessibility for people with disabilities,” Davenport said. The trip led to one of Davenport’s most well-regarded documentaries, a 28-minute film titled “Wheelchair Diaries: One Step Up” that received the award for Best Short Documentary at the 2013 Awareness Film Festival.

“I have lived with a physical disability all of my life and I learn more about myself when I make films. Rather than attempting to cure society’s hesitancy toward disabilities and disabled people, I turn to filmmaking, which allows me to appreciate my own struggles unlike anything else,” said Davenport. He’s gone on to produce four other short documentaries that explore the perspective of people with disabilities and receive a handful of other awards, including the Artistic Visions Award at the 2016 Big Sky Documentary Festival.

In 2016, Davenport took his work one step further when he cofounded Through My Lens, which is an organization that works with schools and community centers to teach students with disabilities how to collaboratively make films. “I think other young people with disabilities who have gone through identity issues or internalized frustration could potentially benefit by expressing themselves through video. I’ve experienced the catharsis of recognizing and sharing my struggles through video,” Davenport said. He hopes that his work will lead to more narratives from the perspectives of people with disabilities.

Davenport’s hopes also seem to be materializing. A couple of years ago, Jason Dasilva took the documentary landscape by storm with his Emmy-Award winning film “When I Walk,” which chronicles his life from being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, to starting a family. More recently, Jennifer Brea’s documentary “Unrest” is proving to be another blockbuster, which shares how her life has changed after being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. “In a media that is riddled with the disabled human-interest stories that strengthen the taboo of disability, firsthand perspectives – whether their feature films or Facebook live events – will show what it’s really like to have a disability in today’s society,” said Davenport.

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