Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Wheelchair Diaries" Film Explores Accessibility in Europe

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

‘Wheelchair Diaries’

When Reid Davenport (above left) learned at freshman orientation that 80 percent of students at George Washington University study overseas, he instantly decided that he would be among them. As his friends began making plans to go abroad in the spring of 2011, so, too, did he—to a program in Florence, Italy. But after he told officials there that he used a wheelchair, they discouraged him, he says. In the end, he didn't go.

As his friends traveled that next semester, Mr. Davenport, who has cerebral palsy, found himself thinking about accessibility in Europe for wheelchair users like him. He wondered: Was there a story to tell? That May he won a fellowship from the university: $5,000 to travel to Europe and document the challenges that wheelchair users there face.
For 20 days this past January, Mr. Davenport and Mark Abramson, a photographer and videographer, traveled through Ireland, Belgium, Italy, and France. Their footage ultimately became a documentary film, produced and directed by Mr. Davenport, titled Wheelchair Diaries: One Step Up. A rough cut of the film was released in April, and a final version will be finished this summer.
The trip involved plenty of headaches. In Dublin, the first stop, Mr. Davenport's wheelchair emerged on the luggage conveyor belt in two pieces. In Brussels, the wheelchair arrived altogether broken: Mr. Davenport walked around with great effort until he found a place to fix it.
Across four cities, Mr. Davenport interviewed more than a dozen wheelchair users about their experiences getting around. Among his "subjects": the leader of a disabled-advocacy group in Paris who became a paraplegic after a car accident about 20 years ago; a French law student with spinal muscular atrophy; a journalist in Brussels with cerebral palsy; and a man in Dublin with chronic progressive multiple sclerosis.
Mr. Davenport, 21, graduated from George Washington in May with a degree in journalism and mass communications. He recently sat down with The Chronicle to talk about his travels and the film. Here are his recollections, as told to Libby Sander.


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