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
Dissatisfied by the way local news portrays people with disabilities, DJP Fellow Sri Sukarni is determined to use her new video skills to share issues important to her community. At the top of her agenda is the lack of accessible public service buildings. “This is what I want to convey to the media, to the government,” she says.
When DJP Fellow Benedicta Oyèdayọ̀ Oyèwọlé was a child, a pastor laid hands on her to “cast out the demons” and blamed her disability on witches. Today, Oyèwọlé is working as an advocate for Nigerians with disabilities to end discrimination: “It’s people’s attitudes that need to be transformed. You can’t legislate attitudes.”
When she was four years old, DJP Fellow Kinanty Andini drew all over the walls in her mother’s house. Now she’s using her creativity to make films that fight against mental health stigmas. “I want to show the society who we really are,” says Andini. “I want people to know that we are not what the stigma says about us.”
Olúwáṣeun Oníyídé Olútòni says that living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities has shaped the way the world sees her – and how she sees the world: “My disability, gender identity, and queerness are not separate parts of me. They are parts of what makes me whole.”
Accessible job opportunities are few and far between for persons with short stature in Rwanda, says Vice President of the Rwanda Union of Little People Manasseh Nzanira. A woman with short stature who has remained unemployed despite having a bachelor’s degree for over four years shares her story.
A national effort to reduce poverty through the provision of small-scale loans in Malawi is not reaching persons with disabilities, advocates say. A man with a disability recounts his experience applying for a loan, and a Malawian disability rights advocate shares his hope for equal loan access for persons with disabilities.