St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson invites the public to a free week of movies filled with inspiration, perspiration and determination. In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, St. Charles will host a moviethon from Sept. 28 through Oct. 2. Each night, starting at 6 p.m. at the Wisdom Conference Center, the hospital will host films that share stories of people with different abilities.
The movies include “Wampler’s Ascent,” which chronicles Stephen Wampler’s remarkable climb to the top of El Capitan at Yosemite National Park. Confined to a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy, Wampler nevertheless did the equivalent of 20,000 pull-ups over the course of five nights and six days to make what is often a landmark rock climb.
“This is a story about a gentleman who is very visibly disabled,” said Jennifer Semel, medical director of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at St. Charles and one of the organizers of the event. “He is in constant motion. He has to lean on his limbs to quiet them down. It shows what perseverance can do.”
Semel said her work at the hospital centers around making patients as functionally independent as possible, which, she said, “goes hand in hand with the ADA.”
Semel’s goal is to take people who have spinal injuries or strokes and return them as much as possible to their quality of life. Her staff also works with children born with cerebral palsy or other conditions. Semel finds her work “very rewarding” because she and her staff can help people with various challenges gain independence.
The movies may help members of the community understand the world of people with disabilities better and may inspire them to become involved and contribute where they can, she said. “Exposing individuals who don’t have physical or developmental challenges to the world that does gets them to see the world through those people’s eyes,” Semel said.
All of the films “expose us to different sides of disabilities,” she said. “Some of the challenges and successes re-instill in all of us the importance of equal rights for people with disabilities.”
While the movies will provide a window into the lives of people with different abilities, they aren’t as effective as a day of real life experience, Semel said. When she was training as a physician, she had to spend a day in a wheelchair.
“You never know what that’s like until you’ve done it,” she said. “Not having a curb on a Manhattan sidewalk can be the end of an outing. The challenges in our world that we don’t recognize as people without physical disabilities are hard to capture” completely in the movies.
Semel is encouraged by the progress she sees in the community. “There have been tremendous strides in terms of making places, restaurants and public places accessible to individuals,” Semel said. “There’s no question that there’s a long way to go.”
Semel coordinated the moviethon with Mike Apostoli, the care coordinator in the Community Re-Entry Program at St. Charles. Apostoli facilitates the Patient and Family Advisory Council, which is a group of patients and caregivers who have been through the rehabilitation program. The group meets monthly and was pleased to provide feedback on the movie choices.
“We tried to stick to movies that were consistent with what it is that we do here,” Apostoli said. “It reflects the patients we see with similar challenges, limitations and assets.”
Apostoli said stroke, spinal cord and brain injuries are often like a tsunami for people’s lives, transporting them to another world. “If we can give people who have not gone through that a glimpse into what that’s like, we will have met a very large challenge to begin to formulate better attitudes,” which includes getting services approved through insurance.
The movies profile compelling people who have sometimes achieved something extraordinary. Apostoli suggested the public can become aware that the average person with a disability may not achieve something as remarkable, but they can overcome obstacles to have a meaningful day. “They may not be climbing mountains, but that doesn’t mean what they are doing isn’t just as difficult,” he said.
Each night, a senior member of the staff will introduce the movie. Semel said she hopes to invite individuals with disabilities and the community to join the celebration. She is also hopeful that this may become an annual event.
Semel said the group screened 27 films and narrowed the list down to five. Along with “Wampler’s Ascent,” which will be screened on Sept. 29, the screenings will include “CinemAbility.” Narrated by Jane Seymour, the film takes a look at the evolution of disability in entertainment by interviewing filmmakers, studio executives and celebrities, including Jamie Foxx, Helen Hunt, Marlee Matlin, Ben Affleck, Gary Sinese and Geena Davis, on Sept. 28.
“Endless Abilities,” a movie about four best friends who have physical disabilities who drive across the country seeking adaptive sports for people like them will be screened on Sept. 30. The movie includes footage of these athletes water skiing, snow skiing and surfing.
“The Intouchables,” the French subtitled film based on a true story about a friendship between a handicapped millionaire and his ex-con caretaker who refuses to take pity on him, will be screened on Oct. 1 followed by “A Whole Lott More” on Oct. 2, which examines the impact of Lott Industries’ struggles and examines the world of employment options for people with disabilities while focusing on three people who each have a different attitude toward work. The film was the winner of the Cincinnati Film Festival for Best Documentary in 2013.
St. Charles Hospital is located at 200 Belle Terre Road, Port Jefferson. The moviethon is free but advance reservations are required for each film by calling 631-474-6797.