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Ask the Filmmaker

After the premiere broadcast of Freedom Machines in September 2004, filmmakers Jamie Stobie and Janet Cole, and Jackie Brand, founder of the Alliance for Technology Access, answered viewers' questions.

Jan in Pennsylvania asks: I was wondering if you would ever do a film about invisible disabilities, like arthritis, fibromyalgia, etc?

freedommachines_filmmakers_179.jpgJamie Stobie and Janet Cole: That's a great idea, though quite honestly not one we've considered. There are so many topics we were unable to cover in a one-hour documentary. We think there's a need for many more documentaries about people with disabilities, of all kinds. Unfortunately, securing production funds for such independent projects is no small task.

Frank in New Jersey asks: What is your view on in-home and community supports vs. the CMS bias in favor of segregated institutions? How do we change it?

Jamie and Janet: I'm not sure what CMS refers to, but understand the substance of your question. As you probably have guessed, particularly from the story about Floyd Stewart, we are strongly supportive of in-home and community supports. More than that, we support individual choice, so that people can take charge of their own lives, and create the living environments that best suit their interests and needs. Right now the bulk of funding supports institutionalized settings rather than community settings, making it very difficult for people to access the supports they need to live in the community. I'd also like to throw out a plug for supported living as another way in which people with significant disabilities can live in the community. My (Jamie's) daughter lives in her own home in the community, with the supportive services she needs, through supportive living services.

Jackie Brand, Alliance for Technology Access: How do we change it? By raising the profile of these issues, and supporting those elected officials who demonstrate their support. It will take continued advocacy work, so join the organizations who are working to protect in-home and community support services. It is our hope that Freedom Machines can play a small part in raising these critically important issues.

Alan in California asks: What can people do to improve access to Assistive Technologies for people with disabilities?

Jackie: Contact your local Alliance for Technology Access Center to try out different tools and to find out more about getting access to Assistive Technologies. If that's not possible, purchase the ATA book, "Computer Resources for People with Disabilities" as that will give you guidance in this process. Once you have some knowledge base about what's available and which tools might be particularly useful for you, you are in a better position to advocate for access. Some public systems that should be helpful include the Public Schools, the Department of Rehabilitation, the Community College system in California, as well as the University System. Be prepared to be persistent in your quest, as that will most certainly be necessary.

Gail in California asks: Do you know of any peer support groups for teens who use assistive technology in the SF Bay Area? My son, Alex, is 13 and in 8th grade. He uses a laptop for all writing and math due to cerebral palsy. He has frustrations unique to being dependent on glitchy and/or aging and/or cutting-edge technology. I would be interested in starting such a group if none exists. (We live in Sonoma County.) Thanks!

Jackie: I'm not aware of any that exist, though I would check with the Alliance for Technology Access in Petaluma to find out if they know about anything at any of their centers. I'd also contact East Bay Innovations (Oakland, I think) because they do work with teens with disabilities, using adults with disabilities as mentors. You have a fantastic idea, and I'd love to see such a group form. Good luck on it.

Patrick in Washington asks: I just viewed your wonderful film, and it touched me on a personal level. For over 14 years I have been working in the Information Technologies field. Can you please steer me in the right direction on how I can help provide my knowledge and skills to others that want to live independent lives?

Jackie: I'd suggest that you begin to get familiar with the field of Assistive Technology by attending a conference on AT. There you will get a sense of what the field is like, and how you could best apply your skills. On the west coast, there is an annual conference in the Los Angeles, California area called CSUN. They host a huge conference and exhibit hall each year in the March-April timeframe. Searching locally, you will no doubt find other possibilities. Contact the local Alliance for Technology Access Center, or your local Independent Living Center for more information. Finally, go to our website, FreedomMachines.com, to learn much more about the field, and to get some good clues for next steps. Good luck in your search.

Fred in Texas asks: Have services for people with disablities seen funding cuts under the present administration?

Jackie: Many services have faced cutbacks over the last few years. Advocates have worked hard to defeat efforts at diluting some of the most important legislation which guarantees basic rights for people with disabilities. To get more specific information, go to our website, FreedomMachines.com. There you will be able to visit the websites of our many national partners, many of whom maintain up-to-date information on the political situation in terms of people with disabilities.

Kathleen in New York asks: Are you planning on doing any other films about the disabled — i.e. their fight to get services under Medicaid, the lack of basic skilled people to be personal aides, etc.?

Jamie and Janet: There are so many issues we didn't have time to focus on in one hour that are crying for good, solid media coverage. Lack of access to funding and the need for trained personal assistants are certainly among them. We think there's a need for many more documentaries about the present, future and historical perspective of those who live with disabilities. Unfortunately, securing production funds for such independent projects is no small task.

Tore in Canada asks: Do you have a list of the suppliers of the equipment you feature in the film?

Jamie, Janet and Jackie: Check out FreedomMachines.com as well as the Alliance for Technology Access website, ATAccess.org.

Ginny in Massachusetts asks: Our son is dyslexic and has problems with writing organization, spelling, lacks phonological awareness and needs extra time to complete assignments and tests. He becomes anxious because he can't always keep up with his peers. He is intelligent, studies hard and wants to be an architect. He is a junior this year. What AT is available for him? Thank you.

Jackie: It would be very helpful to visit an AT Center to learn more about the many tools available to your son. In Massachusetts, there is a program called CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology), which is focused on making the curriculum accessible to all students. They are very knowledgeable about issues of technology and disability, particularly learning disabilities, and may be able to steer your son to good resources. Some very mainstream technology may make a significant difference in your son's academic life. Good luck.

Joe in Tennessee asks: My wife is disabled with severe rheumatoid arthritis. One problem is that although she walks with difficulty and her hands are very deformed, many people cannot believe that she is disabled. As a result of both hips and knees being replaced, she needs therapy. All she can get is generally aimed at athletes with injuries trying to return to their game. It doesn't work. We live in Southeastern Tennessee. Is there anyplace that offers some type of adaptive therapy and perhaps come type of counseling. Also, how can we find out more about the intelli keyboard you mentioned?

Jackie: The Alliance for Technology Access has 5 centers in Tennessee, including one in Nashville and the Signal Center in Chattanooga. These centers are a great way to learn about the technology and to get some guidance in figuring out the options. You'll most certainly be able to see and try out the IntellliKeys keyboard at any of the ATA centers. Good luck in your search.

Freedom Machine's filmmakers Jamie Stobie and Janet Cole




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One of the complaints that I heard constantly while I was making this film was that there are so few role models for people with disabilities in the media... The people in the film really wanted to tell their stories and I just opened the door.”

— Jamie Stobie, Filmmaker