Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Film festival offers further inclusion off campus for students with disabilities

Charlotte Keene
Leo Bopp (right) answers questions and leads a chant during the 20th annual Cinema Touching Film Festival, held by the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, at the Rollins Theater at the Long Center in Austin, Texas on Oct. 19, 2023. Leo Bopp was the star of Deaf Capo, one of the short films shown at the event, which noted how he engages audiences with American Sign Language at Austin FC games.

A happy community gathered at the Long Center this weekend united by the 20th annual Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival. The dark theater provided an open floor for accessibility purposes and the promotion of positive media representation for people with disabilities. 

About a week ago, UT’s Disability Cultural Center and Disability and Access department posted information about the festival and encouraged student attendance on Instagram. They shared that the festival would take place Oct. 20-21, and invited students to RSVP to bus together from campus and said staff would be waiting outside before the event. This year, the festival offered non-documentary and documentary short films selected from around  the world, Q&As and music.

DCC director Emily Shryock, a longtime festival attendee, waited outside the theater until just before the program’s start. Wearing a burnt orange polo alongside service dog Maple, she helped students needing guidance or a familiar presence at the event. 

“This is the first event (the DCC has) tried to promote to the UT community to wander a little farther off campus and get connected to great organizations and the disability community,” Shryock said. 

In light of October serving as Texas Persons with Disabilities History and Awareness Month, the DCC spends the month spotlighting and promoting the inclusion and belonging of students with disabilities through events such as the film festival. She said the University’s DCC stands as the first one in Texas, setting a standard for improved student inclusion in university communities.

“In (the) community, we’re going to (events) that can be intimidating for an individual to go to,” Shryock said. “So, to be able to take more group field trips into places in Austin (is something) I’m excited to do moving forward.”

Shryock said over 3,000 UT students qualify for and use D&A accommodations, and additional students meet the eligible criteria but choose not to use them.

“(The DCC was) created because of student advocacy,” Shryock said. “(Students wanted it) to create that space to be in community. Sometimes having a disability, particularly an invisible disability can be a very isolating experience.” 

Though the film festival’s mission surrounds more accurate and positive portrayals of disability in film, it isn’t exclusive to people with disabilities. One senior government major, Zaanir Somani, chose to attend despite not being a member of the disability community. Dr. James Patton, Somani’s Individual Differences professor, encouraged him to attend. 

“He told me he attends (the festival) almost every single year, and the people who create these films go really in depth with some of the challenges they may go through or how normal their lives can be with their disabilities,” Somani said. 

The festival director and creator, William Greer, said he looks forward to increased involvement from the UT community in the festival’s future with more promotion from the DCC and faculty. 

“I love it when we have young people attend,” Greer said. “It would mean an incredible amount if we could get students from UT to join our audience.”   

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