Defiant Lives tells the story of the rise and triumph of the disability rights movement and introduces the most impressive activists you've never heard of. The film uses exclusive interviews with elders (some now deceased) who have lead the movement over the past five decades, and combines this with rarely seen archival footage sourced from Australia, the United States, and Britain.
The story begins in the big institutions where disabled people were routinely imprisoned for life. From the 1960s onward, small numbers began to escape, aided by allies who came to work and help, and ended up battling a system of brutality and dehumanisation. Once freed from their imprisonment they found a world full of barriers, so they set about dismantling them one by one.
Next disabled people took on the big charities, criticising the use of celebrities to beg on their behalf. They chained themselves to public transport around the world and demanded access 'to boldly go where everyone else has gone before'; and they lobbied for support to live ordinary lives in the community with family, lovers and friends.
The genesis of the film began in 2010 when filmmaker Sarah Barton received a Churchill Fellowship, which allowed her to travel to America and England to research her idea for a film about the disability rights movement. During that 8-week journey she travelled with her camera, tripod, lighting and sound gear and recorded 27 interviews with activists. 'I knew that I would only get one chance to meet these people so I regarded the process as recording my research, and those recordings became the bedrock of the film.'
While most of the interviewees have disabilities, their individual impairments are not the focus of this film and are not explicitly discussed. Each interviewee instead discusses their contribution to the worldwide fight for disabled people to participate more fully in society. Together their stories tell of a community of disabled people with leaders you may never have heard of, whose mission was to literally change the world.
Disability activist Samantha Connor, , reminds us of the disabled people’s motto 'nothing about us, without us', as she accompanies us on our journey to meet these activists and engage with their tenacity, intelligence and humour. Defiant Lives is a triumphant film full of extraordinary characters who put their lives on the line to create a better and very different world where everyone, regardless of impairment is valued and can participate.
Defiant Lives can be linked to the following subject areas within the Australian National Curriculum:
- Health and Physical Education
The General Capabilities of Ethical Understanding and Personal and Social Capability
‘Defiant Lives’ is also recommended as a supplementary text for students studying the following Senior School subjects:
- Health and Human Development