Sarah Barton’s Defiant Lives details the struggle for disability rights in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Featuring interviews with key disability activists and supplemented with archival footage, the film provides powerful insight into the treatment of people with disabilities from the 1960s to today.
Barton’s film explores the recent shift in conversations around disability, from disability being viewed as troublesome and something to be pitied, to disability being centred on respect and recognition of rights. Yet people living with disabilities are still institutionalised and hospitalised in alarming numbers; Barton estimates around 30,000 people under 65 in Australia and more than 2 million in the United States.
Institutionalisation is not the only struggle activists have fought against. Disability as a spectacle, as entertainment to aid fundraising, only disappeared from television screens recently. American comedian Jerry Lewis’ annual Las Vegas telethon in 2011 paraded child wheelchair users across the stage in a bid to elicit donations, and telethons in the United Kingdom and Australia, up until 1992 and 2000 respectively, used similar tactics.
Defiant Lives tells the powerful story of disability activists fighting against entrenched attitudes towards disability and highlights the ongoing struggle for recognition of rights that able-bodied people often take for granted.