As Long as You Have a Story to Tell
DJP Fellow Retta Maha Says People Who are Blind or Low Vision Can Make Films. It All Begins with Having a Story to Tell.
September 10, 2022
JAKARTA, Indonesia — When she first heard about the Disability Justice Project’s filmmaking fellowship, Retta Maha searched through the application guidelines to see if there were any restrictions for blind people. Maha was diagnosed with congenital cataracts when she was three months old, which caused her to permanently lose about 90 percent of her vision.
“I was interested in applying to the Disability Justice Project because they said that they will teach us how to make videos and film. And I just wondered how it’s possible for blind people to do that,” says Maha. “In their information, they put that people with disabilities are allowed to apply, and they didn’t mention restrictions for any type of disability. So I thought, ‘I can join this training.’”
As a 2022 fellow, Maha is the first blind filmmaker that the DJP has worked with, and she’s paved the way in showing how individuals who are blind or low vision can tell stories through video.
“I found that blind people also can be filmmakers, as long as they get support,” says Maha. “As long as you have the idea about what film you want to make or how the b-roll is supposed to be. So the blind have their own idea of how to make it and what is the story, and then the sighted people can help them to make it real.”
Since 2005, Maha has been an activist in the disability rights movement, fighting for the inclusion of people with disabilities at every level of Indonesian society. When she was young, Maha’s parents prioritized sending her to college over her siblings, anticipating that she would have a harder time getting access to a degree.
“In Indonesia, we still face a lack of knowledge and understanding about the rights of people with disabilities,” says Maha. “So, usually people with disabilities only get charity, like help and support, but rarely do people think that people with disabilities can also go to school and get a better education.”
Maha has made two films in partnership with the Disability Justice Project. Both have centered on the challenges people with disabilities face in Indonesia, whether they are running for political office or trying to make a professional living. Through her videos, she says, she wants to change the mindset of Indonesians who have limited beliefs about what people with disabilities can achieve.
Maha herself not only obtained her bachelor’s degree but went on to attend law school. She now works as a program officer for the Center for Election Access of Citizens with Disabilities (PPUA). She says her blindness has allowed her to care about and understand disability rights issues better and has motivated her to overcome barriers.
“I think no matter the disability that someone has, you give the opportunity to them to do something that they want to do,” says Maha. “What we can do as a society, as a friend or community, is we can give them the support that they need.”
Delainey LaHood-Burns is a digital content producer based in New Hampshire and a contributor to the Disability Justice Project. @2022 Disability Justice Project. All rights reserved.
News From the Global Frontlines of Disability Justice
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Terubeimoa (Ruby) Nabetari has been using the skills she learned as a composer of music and drama to help her organization, Te Toa Matoa, get their messages across about the rights of persons with disabilities in Kiribati. When she first became disabled from an accident, “I felt sad and confused … because I was well-known as a person who composed music and drama in my country,” she says. “But as time went on, I thanked God that I changed my mind and started to realize what I have to offer people with disabilities.”
DJP Fellow Melvina Voua is advocating for the full inclusion of Solomon Islanders with disabilities in all aspects of climate change adaptation and mitigation. “When the crisis or the disaster happen, we always find it difficult to evacuate or access or even get prepared or respond,” she says. “All … plans must be inclusive and not excluding people with disability, like when designing evacuation centers or developing policies for climate change or disasters.”
DJP Fellow Ari Hazelman is drawing on his region’s rich storytelling history to further the cause of disability rights. “When we think about our myths and legends that we have in our Pacific culture, that’s part of the stories that we grow up with,” he says. “So when you put it to the disability field, using the stories that we can document through the knowledge that we learn in this [DJP] workshop will help us to tell our stories and use those stories to make a positive change in our society.”
DJP Fellow Isoa Nabainivalu is a Deaf disability rights advocate for his country of Fiji. Since 2019, he has been focusing on advocating for the rights of one of the more marginalized groups in the Pacific – LGBTQI+ persons with disabilities. “First and foremost for us is for our members to come out, to feel comfortable, to know their rights and know how to use them in different spaces,” he says.
Faaolo Utumapu-Utailesolo is a program officer for the Pacific Island Countries with the Disability Rights Fund. She is a longtime disability rights activist in Samoa. “As an advocate, you get knocked down by things,” she says, “and you keep going because you know that there are other people with disabilities who need a lot of support and who will need you to be paving the way.”