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The HWS Update

Wretches and Jabberers

HWS education students and Assistant Professor of Education Mary Kelly recently attended the premiere of the new documentary “Wretches and Jabberers: And Stories from the Road” at the Syracuse International Film Festival. The premiere also featured a question and answer session with the stars and the filmmakers, facilitated by NPR host Lakshmi Singh.

The film features the world travels of disability rights advocates Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher, who in the film travel to meet other people with autism in Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland, and strive to change attitudes about the abilities and intelligence of people with autism.  Lauren Shallish ’05, who is currently a doctoral student at Syracuse University, helped organize the screening and events surrounding the documentary. 

Students Nora Devine-Carter ’11, Alyson Hill ’11, Hannah Hood ’12 and Melissa Webster ’13 accompanied Kelly to the premier and met Bissonnette. (In the photo, Shallish (left) joins Bissonnette (center) and other HWS community members.)

“Not many films focus on individuals with autism and I could not pass up the opportunity to see it!” says Devine-Carter, who teaches and works with people with autism, and is president of the College Experience Club on campus to promote inclusion of people with disabilities.

“Wretches and Jabberers: And Stories from the Road” is directed by Oscar winner and two-time Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Geraldine Wurzburg. Academy Award-nominated Doug Biklen, who is the dean of the School of Education and founder of the Inclusion Institutes at Syracuse University, is a producer on the film and also presented at the conference. He is the author of “Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone” (NYU Press, 2005). He and Wurzburg previously collaborated on “Autism is a World” and Biklen served as an adviser on Wurzburg’s films “Educating Peter” and “Graduating Peter.”

Bissonnette and Thresher typed their often humorous and philosophical responses to questions posed by Singh and the audience, shown on large overhead screens and read aloud by their computers as they typed. 

Kelly notes, in response to a question about the purpose of the film, Thresher typed on his computer “Get to know our intelligent minds.” She says, “It was an essential message from the documentary that people with disabilities have the right to be fully included in society, and that it is important for society to recognize the intelligence and value of all people, including people with disabilities, to participate in society and be able to make decisions about their lives. The premiere was a great opportunity for all of us to hear directly from the filmmakers and film participants.”

“The documentary definitely inspired me to learn more about facilitated communication and learn more about opportunities that are available for me next year as I look for positions relating to special education and working with people who have special needs,” says Devine-Carter.

Last year, Bissonnette had his artwork on display at the Disability in the Arts conference hosted by HWS. Steve Kuusisto ’78 attended SU’s premiere at the International Vermont Film Festival and is working on an article about the film. 

The film was also featured in the LA Times: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/music_blog/2010/10/wretches-jabberers-autism-j-ralph.html 

If anyone in the HWS community is interested in getting involved with the College Experience Program they should e-mail nora.devine-carter@hws.edu  More information about the documentary is online http://www.wretchesandjabberers.org/. Shallish can be contacted at LeShalli@syr.edu