Disability in America January 2021

Northampton filmmaker probes environmental and public health factors …

A little over 30 years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, marking the first major effort to protect people from discrimination because they had a disability — much as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, sex, and other factors.

But as Northampton filmmaker PJ Moynihan sees it, disability in the U.S. in 2020 has become a more complicated subject, as environmental problems, economic and social inequities, and now the pandemic lead to a higher rate of disability among Americans of all ages, most notably those in low-income communities.

“We’ve seen some very compelling collaboration between the state, private companies, and the health care system,” said Boyd. “A lot of people rolled up their sleeves and said, ‘What can we do?’”

The first episode, called “The Crisis,” looks at how tech companies, for instance, retooled their production lines to make equipment such as surgical masks and respirators, and it considers the coordination between agencies such as the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and Gov. Charlie Baker’s “COVID Command Center.”

“We don’t know yet where the series will go, since the pandemic is an ongoing issue, but we like to think it will offer a good look at this pretty good ecosystem we have in the commonwealth,” said Boyd.

It’s an issue that Moynihan, an independent filmmaker who grew up in Holyoke, outlines in a recent documentary he has developed with the Institute for Human-Centered Design (IHCD), a Boston education and design nonprofit group that works to improve access for the elderly and those with disabilities in a range of environments.

“The Changing Reality of Disability in America: 2020,” which first aired a few months ago on the IHCD website and on a number of video-on-demand platforms, is part of a larger project the IHCD is involved with to mark the 30th anniversary of the passage of the ADA.

The “Project Frontline” series, like the disability film, is “an ongoing story,” Moynihan noted. “We don’t know how it will turn out, and those are the best stories to work on as a filmmaker.”


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