When you start watching a documentary about blind teenagers coping with school and other challenges and the first several minutes show a 14-year-old boy skateboarding down the street and around his schoolyard, you ask yourself: Is he really blind, or did I click on the wrong movie?
But soon enough you learn that Connor, a Southern California teenager, is indeed visually impaired. He relies on his sense of touch and his hearing to complete skateboard tricks that would challenge anyone.
Connor is one of the four blind teens we meet in “Do You Dream in Color?”, a 75-minute film directed by Abigail Fuller and Sarah Ivy. The documentary was shown over the weekend at the ReelAbilities Film Festival in New York City. (I watched a screener, which is why I briefly wondered whether I had selected the right film on my Vimeo watchlist.)
The documentary is engaging because each of the four subjects has a good story to tell and a short-term goal in mind that gives the film a nice narrative.
Connor’s goal is to join the skateboard team based at his local skate shop. He is told to make a video demonstrating his tricks, and when his friends are recording him, he is suddenly having a harder time.
“Is it normal to not be able to do something under pressure?” he asks his friends. They assure him it is.
The other subjects include Sarah, 16, who loves to read Braille maps and learn foreign languages. She wants to be an AFS foreign-exchange student, preferably in Portugal, because she is partly of Portuguese descent. Her father (her mom died when she was young), her teachers, and AFS representatives all have concerns about her going overseas for a year of high school.
Nick, 15, is one half of a set of twins, but he is blind and his brother isn’t. Nick is into music, playing in a metal band and composing his own songs. But while he had a good experience in elementary school, his middle school was completely unprepared for him, meaning no special education plan or accommodations had been made for him. “The bottom fell out,” says his mother. Nick didn’t join his brother in middle school for some time.
Carina, 18, has the most heart-wrenching story. She was visually impaired from an early age, but a form of laser surgery at age 12 that was meant to help her instead made her fully blind. The documentary focuses on her advocates’ battles with her high school and school district over Carina’s individualized education plan.
Carina complains that she hasn’t been provided Braille textbooks in a timely way, if at all, to keep up with her classes. Her advocate takes on Carina’s school IEP team in a meeting from which the documentary cameras are barred, but someone on her side sneaks in some form of smartphone camera, which captures the tension that is typical of many such meetings.
Carina’s advocate complains about the lack of Braille texts. A school official raises the issue of Carina’s frequent absences. The advocate says one reason for the absences is the lack of cooperation from the school district.
(The district isn’t identified, and aside from the clandestine video from the IEP meeting, there are no interviews with school officials.)
The four blind students continue to strive toward their goals, whether they be joining a skateboard team, going overseas, performing with a band before an audience, or working toward high school graduation. I won’t reveal exactly how those quests turn out.
The film’s credit roll points out that approximately one in three blind adults in the United States do not have a high school diploma, and that 70 percent of such adults are unemployed.
If any blind young people can beat those odds, Connor, Sarah, Nick, and Carina seem to have the wherewithal to do so.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.