Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Intelligent Lives

Award-winning filmmaker Dan Habib is turning his attention to the world of intellectual disability in his new film, a documentary with the working title of Intelligent Lives.  The film will explore ways in which standard ideas of intelligence unfairly limit individuals with intellectual disabilities, as well as ways in which these individuals are contributing to society in fields including work and higher education.

According to the project's website, about 6.5 million Americans are identified as having an intellectual disability.  As adults only 24% of these people are employed, and as students a mere 17% are included in classrooms with non-disabled peers.  One of the film's focuses will be why new ideas of intelligence are starting to help break down these classroom separations.

Habib isn't new to the world of documentaries about educational and disability issues.  His past credits include Who Cares About Kelsey?, an Emmy-nominated film about students with emotional and behavioral challenges, and Including Samuel, another Emmy-nominated film that focuses on Habib's own son who has cerebral palsy.  In 2014, Habib was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

A trailer for Dan Habib's film Including Samuel.  View a version of the trailer with audio descriptions of the visuals here.

The filmmaker also has a Portland connection: in summer 2015, the University of Michigan Alumni Association reported that he once worked for a daily newspaper here before becoming a staff photographer (and later a photo editor) at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.  These days, he's a filmmaker and project director at the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability.

This new film on intellectual disability will also follow the stories of individuals, as well as investigating the historical treatment of people who have intellectual disabilities.  A central focus of the film will be Micah Fialka-Feldman, a staff member, student, and teaching assistant at Syracuse University.  Although Fialka-Feldman scores a 40 on a traditional IQ test, the film will show how he is still able to have a meaningful life and make valuable contributions to society.  Interviews with leaders in the fields of neuroscience, education, business and more will also be included in the film, and the value of so-called "intelligence testing" will be called into question.  The documentary will be narrated by Academy Award winning actor Chris Cooper, and is slated to be completed by the fall of 2017.

You can learn more about the Intelligent Lives project on the Intelligent Lives website, and you can find out more about Dan Habib and his past projects on Syracuse University's website, from the University of Michigan's Alumni Association, and in Education Weekly.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Spotlight: Jonathan Stoklosa, a powerlifter who has Down syndrome

Jonathan Stoklosa can bench-press over 400 pounds.  He competes in powerlifting matches, and frequently places in the top three.  His parents say that he'll sometimes get strange looks at the gym or in competition, but those looks fade quickly once he starts lifting several hundred pounds.

Stoklosa was born with Down syndrome, but his parents Liz and Hank did not raise him any differently than they did their other boys.  The couple says they simply didn't expect anything less from him than from their two other sons, both of whom are adults now as well.  Though Stoklosa is now admired by many, Hank Stoklosa admits that wasn't exactly what he and and his wife were expecting when they were first told that their son had Down syndrome, and he says that Jonathan changed their lives.

Jonathan Stoklosa has a day job, too: a bag boy at a grocery store.  He collects carts left in the parking lot and gives out stickers to the kids.  Despite his immense strength, he's said to have a gentle touch at work.  A quiet man, interviewers have noted that he prefers to let his parents do the talking, though he's been know to yell and pound his chest after a successful lift.

Stoklosa started weightlifting when he was 12 years old.  A year later he could bench-press 185 pounds, and by the time he was 16 years old, that number had risen to 225 pounds.  But the road hasn't always been an easy one; Stoklosa ruptured his ACL in 2007.  His father notes that technique is a critical focus in Stoklosa's trainings, and greater attention is also put on injury prevention now.  Lately the gains in how much weight Stoklosa can lift are made slowly, increasing by about 5 pounds per year.

Stoklosa has competed successfully in the Special Olympics, and in more recent years, he's also competed in regular competitions that are not designed for people with different abilities.  His trainer, Brandon McGovern, has said that Stoklosa is a competitor and strives to be as good as he can be.  A few years ago Stoklosa bench-pressed his personal best at the time: 402.5 pounds, enough to win him third place in his age division in a powerlifting competition in upstate New York.  At the same competition he also received a "Most Inspirational" award, given to him through unanimous choice by fellow competitors.

You can learn more about Jonathan Stoklosa from Delaware Online, CBS News, and the Huffington Post.