Last night, Community Cinema hosted a screening of the Independent Lens film The Eyes of Me at the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia, Pa. The film follows four visually impaired teenagers in Texas as they face the usual challenges of adolescence while simultaneously learning to navigate a world designed for the sighted. Regional Outreach Coordinator Cindy Burstein gives an overview of what happened and discusses the local impact.
The lobby of the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia was bustling with activity, as volunteers gathered for the Community Cinema screening of The Eyes of Me. Fran Fulton, a staff person with Liberty Resources, Inc. (a partner in presenting the event) was busy training a Villanova University sorority on how to serve as sighted guides. Fulton, who is blind, reminded the volunteers that some of the most basic things that sighted people take for granted are important to remember when assisting blind people, such as telling them which direction the seat is facing, and placing the hand of the blind person on the seat in front of them as a way to guide them into an available chair, which may be four or five seats down the row. Audio describers from Amaryllis Theatre Company were setting up equipment for live audio description, and American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters from the Deaf-Hearing Communication Center were getting acquainted with the space and ready to provide sign language interpretation for the panel discussion taking place after the film.
The crowd was welcomed by Gerry Kitzhoffer, principal of Overbrook School for the Blind (OSB), who also introduced the panel afterwards, which included OSB senior Traniece Johnson and alumni Donal Buie; independent living services supervisor at Liberty Resources, Inc. Cecelia Ramatsingh and moderator, Bill Chrisner from the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania. The panel –– organized to represent an intergenerational view on being blind –– shared personal experiences as compared to those in the film.
Comments touched on the importance of private education for the blind to support social development, but also the hope that one day the public school system might offer a more well rounded curriculum for people living with disabilities so that success with integration and mainstreaming might be achieved. Audience questions further engaged the panelists around these issues, and also extended to inquiries about how the community at large might find opportunities to engage with the school. In closing the panel, Cecelia Ramatsingh offered these words “Let us continue to strive for justice for all (especially people with disabilities) and independent living for all.” And Bill Chrisner followed up by impressing upon the crowd to “Be proud of who you are. We who have disabilities do not overcome them, we succeed with our differences and they are a part of who we are. It’s the prejudice and discrimination we run into that we overcome.”
Last night’s event was a coordinated effort on the part of all the event partners to bring the public together with people living with disabilities to increase awareness and also to provide broader access to cultural events for guests with disabilities –– an endeavor that we at Community Cinema hope to continue to offer in the future.
-Cindy Burstein Regional Outreach Coordinator
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