Fun Fact Friday presents: Disability Through The Lens of Disney

For one of my senior research projects in college, I researched the representation of people with disabilities in Disney movies, as well as how they are portrayed.  As I describe in my paper, Disney has created very few characters with disabilities so far, and the ones that have been portrayed are not entirely accurate.

They also do not go beyond the typical “You can do anything no matter what” statement, and sometimes portray characters with disabilities as comical and less realistic.

5460472336_9fa0847295_zHowever, Disney has produced two films in particular that portray disabilities in a positive and somewhat realistic way, which are Dumbo (1941) and Finding Nemo (2003).  The latter film does a better job of portraying disabilities than the former, mostly due to the time periods in which the films were released. In the 1940s, when Dumbo was released, people didn’t know as much about disabilities than they do in today’s society.

Our increasing knowledge and awareness of individuals with disabilities, as well as the disabilities themselves, has led us to be more accepting of them.  This is very similar to what we do in our Disability Awareness Trainings!

1484830339_9d64f2cbfc_zThese differences in views of disabilities can be seen at the end of each film.  At the end of Dumbo, although the titular character becomes more accepted by others, his disability is still viewed as a “spectacle,” and that is what eventually leads to his fame.  On the other hand, at the end of Finding Nemo, the titular fish does not become famous for his disability, rather, he simply is accepted into society for who he is.

In Finding Nemo, Nemo is accepted earlier in the film than Dumbo is and he is accepted by more individuals, not to mention others his own age. The other kids even have disabilities of their own and they proudly share their differences with Nemo, thereby allowing him to fit in more.

His acceptance is further established later in the film, when he meets a group of fish in a fish tank. Each fish has a disability of their own as well, and Nemo can identify with them because of this. Finding Nemo is perhaps the closest Disney has come so far to not only accurately portraying individuals with disabilities, but creating characters individuals with disabilities can relate to.

3335593411_5bf0c34274_zBesides Nemo, there is one other character with a disability that plays an important part in the storyline and that is Dory, who has a disability that affects her short term memory.

Despite her frustrations with this, she always has a positive outlook on life, and is very determined to help those in need.  These are both traits in which the audience can be inspired by as well as relate to.

Later this month, Dory’s story will be continued and expanded in the upcoming film Finding Dory (2016).  Let’s hope Disney and Pixar will continue to portray Dory in a positive light and maybe even explore some characteristics of her that we have yet to discover.  We’re looking forward to seeing what Pixar can come up with.

– Abbie is a recent graduate of Loras College with a degree in Media Studies and has recently become a Digital Marketing Intern at

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at


Fun Fact Friday presents: “Children Of A Lesser God”

Marlee Matlin in "Children Of A Lesser God"

Marlee Matlin in “Children Of A Lesser God”

Randa Haines’ Children of a Lesser God (1986) introduced Marlee Matlin to the world. The film is seen as extremely important as well, having a deaf individual in the lead role (Matlin) using American Sign Language (ASL) throughout the film and showing a community of deaf people interacting with each other (Through). At the same time, the deaf community considers the film problematic. The lighting and framing of the film causes some of the ASL to be obscured, making it hard for deaf audience members to understand the “signed dialogue” (Schuchman 85). Furthermore, hearing characters do not always sign when they talk (Norden 288). There was also the problem of movie theaters lacking versions of the film with subtitles, as only ten of the 215 theaters showing the film in late 1986 “had captioned versions, often [showing the film] only on early Saturday and Sunday mornings” (288). This illustrates the accessibility issues that existed at the time pertaining to this film. As a result of these factors, the deaf community also regards this film as being geared toward a hearing audience (289). 

Jonathan Bartholomy, RAFF Chicago Planning Committee Member

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at


Works Cited


Norden, Martin F. The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies.

New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1994.

Schuchman, John S. Hollywood Speaks: Deafness and the Film Entertainment Industry. Urbana:

University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Through Deaf Eyes. Dir. Diane Garey and Lawrence R. Hott. Perf. Marlee Matlin and CJ Jones.

DVD. PBS Home Video, 2007.

H. Lloyd

Fun Fact Friday presents: Harold Lloyd, a silent film comedian and impaired stuntman

H. Lloyd

Harold Lloyd (middle)

While Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton may receive more name recognition as silent film comedians, another person that is closely associated with them is Harold Lloyd. Lloyd’s film career lasted over 30 years, from 1913 to 1947 (“Filmography”). He is best known for comedies that put his character in precarious positions, (such as Safety Last! (1923)) performing stunts that captivated audiences. Perhaps the most interesting part of his story is his experience of impairment and the solution that allowed him to continue his career. On August 24, 1919, while posing for publicity photos, he used what he thought to be a “prop bomb” in his right hand to light a cigarette, lowering it away from his face. This prop bomb was an actual bomb, and exploded, causing him to temporarily lose his vision. The blast also caused the loss of his forefinger, thumb, and part of his palm on his right hand. He eventually decided to continue his career, regaining his sight and using a prosthetic glove on his right hand to conceal any impairment (Leonard; “Part 2”). Lloyd used a number of different gloves over the years. The gloves were made to look like skin and match the color of the make-up that was worn at the time. Since the films were in black-and-white, the audience members who watched his films could not really see any difference (Memories).


Some thoughts:

Even as I post this fun fact concerning Harold Lloyd, I do not want this to be strictly seen as a type of “overcomer” story, focused on his own perseverance through an experience of disability. I have seen enough of those stories. Paul Longmore writes how “disability is primarily a problem of the emotional coping, of personal acceptance” when examining disability in film and television (139). These ideas surrounding disability still permeate society, perpetuated by media stories. With Lloyd, this type of framing is used by those who knew him when talking about how the issue was handled. Even with Lloyd’s characters,’ while there was no use of disability, there was a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality, with a focus on overcoming the odds.

When I think about Lloyd’s situation, I am more drawn to his effort to “pass” as a nondisabled individual with his prosthetic glove. I know it has been 70 years since his last film and that ideas about disability, inclusion, and many other issues have changed. Still, I think about the stigma attached to disability and the desire to disassociate from it at that time. At the same time, Lloyd was a privileged individual in the sense that he already had an established career. He was able to keep that rolling for almost 30 years. I have no idea how he actually felt about his impairment. It seems that it was rarely talked about, as he “’didn’t want people to feel embarrassed about it’” (“Part 2”) I don’t regard him as a hero or feel sorry for him. I find his films to be funny and his stunts to be brilliant, but I don’t admire him. I do feel it is important to think about his situation and similar ones that are more current, as disability continues to play an increasingly vital part in how society develops.

Jonathan Bartholomy, RAFF Chicago Planning Committee Member

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at


Works Cited

“Filmography.” haroldlloyd, Accessed 15 May 2017.

Leonard Maltin’s Segments: Ring Up the Curtain!: 1893 – 1919: I’m On My Way 1917 – 1919.

Perf. Leonard Maltin.  DVD. The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection Bonus Disc. New

Line Home Entertainment, 2005.

Longmore, Paul K. Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability. Philadelphia:

Temple University Press, 2003.

Memories, Secrets and Gags: Ring Up the Curtain!: 1893 – 1919: Harold’s Glove. Perf. Richard

Correll and David Nowell.  DVD. The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection Bonus Disc.

New Line Home Entertainment, 2005.

“Part 2 Susanne Llyod ‘the horrible accident’ interview with host Frankie Verroca.” Youtube,

uploaded by frankietalk, 1 October 2011,

Movie Still

Fun Fact Friday presents: Harold Russell, bilateral hand amputee and unexpected movie star

Movie Still

Harold Russel (left), Dana Andrews (middle), and Fredric March (right)

William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) follows three serviceman who meet while flying back to their hometown of Boone City after World War II.  Al Stephenson (Fredric March) is an older Army Sergeant who has difficulty adjusting to home life with his family and resuming his career as a banker. Air Force Captain Fred Dery (Dana Andrews) is younger, coming home to wartime marriage after a short courtship, trying to find a job, and dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Homer Parrish (Harold Russell) is a Navy Officer nervous about reconnecting with his family and girlfriend Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell) after losing his hands and having to use prosthetic hooks in their place. All three men are interconnected in their efforts to readjust to civilian life.


Harold Russell was “discovered” by director William Wyler and playwright Robert Sherwood (who was hired to work with Wyler on concepts for the film) when they viewed the army training film Diary of a Sergeant. This film was meant to “offer encouragement to the 15,000 men who had lost hands or arms” (Gerber 77, 79). Russell was a bilateral hand amputee due to a training accident (80). The 22 minute film depicts Russell as a person who lost his hands on D-Day, eventually going from a self-pitying state to watching a film about a man using prosthetics and being inspired, learning how to use his own prosthetics and eventually reintegrating into society. The action on the screen is coupled with a narrator who tells the story (“Diary”). Russell, whose own experiences of dealing with disability and rehabilitation were similar, impressed Wyler and Sherwood and he was eventually cast in the film (Gerber 80).

When I watch The Best Years of Our Lives, I try to prepare myself for it. First of all, it’s a long film, running almost three hours. I want to make sure I can watch the entire thing in a single sitting. I don’t like to start and stop a film, as it takes me out of the moment. Sometimes, it’s just hard to get back “in” to the moment and I have to move on, reserving plans for another day. Beyond the “length” factor, I also have mixed emotions about what I am watching on the screen. I enjoy seeing Harold Russell playing the role of a character with a disability. I realize that Russell was not a professional actor. He was incredibly lucky and given a chance. The disability is not “created” with the assistance of special effects. At the same time, while I connect to some of the emotions that the character Homer Parrish expresses, I have to remind myself that it is all part of a narrative that plays on the stereotypes surrounding veterans with disabilities. On the one hand, Wyler exploits to the anxiety surrounding the returning veterans with disabilities, working on both the pity and fear that the audience has for the character. On the other hand, there is also an emphasis on the ability to overcome adversity through disability (Gerber 76). These ideas still exist within society and have been perpetuated in films throughout the years in one form or another. Sometimes, the process of watching films that continue to do this is exhausting. So, why do I do it?

During my time at The University of Toledo, I took a class entitled, “American Myth and Legacy of Vietnam.” I embarked on projects that examined the portrayal of Vietnam veterans in film, first on characters with physical disabilities and then looking at characters with (PTSD). During our final weeks of class, I was presenting my work and explaining why it mattered. After it was all said and done, a classmate chimed in and made the point, “But they’re just movies…” I don’t really remember the exchange (or if there was one, because my nerves were fried from presenting). However, I do remember being surprised with those words. I understand how we can enjoy films and watch them for fun, but I have a hard time thinking about them as “just movies.” They can influence the lives of people in so many ways, impacting societal perceptions, day-to-day interactions, and more. I think this is a major reason why I keep watching, even if it means multiple viewings. I keep learning something new.

Jonathan Bartholomy, RAFF Chicago Planning Committee Member

Works Cited

Gerber, David. “’Heroes and Misfits: The Troubled Social Reintegration of Disabled Veterans in The Best Years of Our Lives.”  Disabled Veterans in History. Ed. Gerber, David.

Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000. 96-114.
“Diary of a Sargeant, 1945.” YouTube, uploaded by US National Archives, 27 May 2014,


RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at


Kartemquin partners with ReelAbilities Chicago to offer ReeLabs

Are you a Chicago-area independent filmmaker who has a disability, or who is making a film about disability or inclusion?

Kartemquin has partnered with ReelAbilities Chicago, the largest film festival in the United States dedicated to sharing the human experience of disability through art and film, to offer ReeLabs––an exclusive critique and discussion of works-in-progress by up to six eligible local filmmakers.

The intimate feedback session is open for incomplete projects at any stage of production, and will take place on Tuesday, October 3rd 2017.

Please complete the ReeLabs submission form for consideration into the program.

Have questions or comments? Contact Matt Lauterbach, ReelAbilities Chicago Co-Director at

The KTQ Labs program is a free monthly service at which filmmakers present their demos and rough cuts to the Kartemquin community in return for constructive critique. The program has helped improve over 100 projects in the past decade, including some of the best Midwest-made documentaries in recent years, such as What’s the Matter with Kansas?, Louder Than A Bomb, Andrew Bird: Fever Year, Quest, and many more.

The 2017 ReelAbilities Film Festival is coming to Chicago October 4-8! Visit the festival’s official website here.

Follow ReelAbilities Chicago on Twitter.
Like ReelAbilities Chicago on Facebook.

Meet The Team

Meet The Team – Carolee Stanmar, Planning Committee Member

Meet The TeamI’m a techie and trekkie. I love technology and Star Trek (the prime universe not the JJ Abrams universe). I also love most forms of science fiction ( horror is not science fiction). As a child of the eighties, I have a fondness for watching movies like The Princess Bride, Big, and the original Ghostbusters. Thank goodness for Netflix, Hulu, and Chromecast!

As an urban hermit, I prefer watching movies at home rather than going to the movie theater. The only exception of course is when I’m watching the latest sci-fi blockbuster.

I love living in Chicago because in the Spring and Summer I can get my fill of pop culture conventions. Through the conventions, I have met a cornucopia of celebrities from Supergirl to Back To The Future and others.

When I’m not watching movies, I’m a volunteer for Illinois Spina Bifida Association.

– Carolee Stanmar, Planning Committee Member

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at