Newspaper article The Canadian Press

ReelAbilities Film Fest Encourages Empathy for Those with Different Abilities

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

ReelAbilities Film Fest Encourages Empathy for Those with Different Abilities

Article excerpt

ReelAbilities film fest encourages empathy, inclusion

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Toronto-based film and accessibility critic Michael McNeely, who is deafblind, has faced many frustrating customer-service challenges over the years.

With his combination of impaired vision and hearing, he prefers texting, email and chatting in person as his main forms of communication.

If he has to talk over the phone, he arranges for his intervenor from the Canadian Deafblind Association to mediate the conversation.

Seemingly simple everyday tasks such as ordering food or tickets can be extremely challenging -- particularly when businesses don't know about his condition or understand it.

"Even today I was trying to get an Uber to the theatre and the man kept calling me and I kept texting him and saying, 'I'm deaf, please don't call me,'" the Kingston, Ont., native said in a recent phone interview, which was mediated by his intervenor.

"It just keeps on going. There are so many different kinds of reactions from uninformed people."

McNeely shares his experiences in his comical new film "Hold Music," a 10-minute, semi-silent experimental short that's screening at the Toronto ReelAbilities Film Festival, which kicks off Wednesday.

A total of 17 films from around the world are in the lineup for the fest, which showcases people with different abilities and is fully accessible to them.

"I hope that this festival is an example to other festivals like it," said McNeely, who directed and starred in his film, about his obstacles in trying to buy tickets to a musical.

He hopes his film will spur companies to speak to people with disabilities to get their perspectives on how to improve customer service. And he wants audiences to "look beyond a label and find a human being underneath."

"I hope that they will just recognize that there are many different perspectives in life and that sometimes what may seem easy for one person is actually very difficult," said McNeely.

Other Canadian titles in the festival lineup include the short documentary "My Life in the City" by Toronto filmmaker Adam Goldhammer. …

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