Skip to main content
Retta Maha poses for the camera. She is wearing a red shirt and her hair is pulled back.


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.”

A film by Delainey LaHood. Video includes audio descriptions. Click here for descriptive transcript.

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

A photo montage of inaccessible voting places across the US.

Barriers to the Ballot

Despite legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act, barriers at the polls still hinder — and often prevent — people with disabilities from voting. New restrictive laws in some states, such as criminalizing assistance with voting, exacerbate these issues. Advocacy groups continue to fight for improved accessibility and increased voter turnout among disabled individuals, emphasizing the need for multiple voting options to accommodate diverse needs. ““Of course, we want to vote,” says Claire Stanley with the American Council of the Blind, “but if you can’t, you can’t.”

Read more about Barriers to the Ballot

A collage of photos showing inaccessible polling stations.

Democracy Denied

In 2024, a record number of voters worldwide will head to the polls, but many disabled individuals still face significant barriers. In India, inaccessible electronic voting machines and polling stations hinder the ability of disabled voters to cast their ballots independently. Despite legal protections and efforts to improve accessibility, systemic issues continue to prevent many from fully participating in the world’s largest democracy. “All across India, the perception of having made a place accessible,” says Vaishnavi Jayakumar of Disability Rights Alliance, “is to put a decent ramp at the entrance and some form of quasi-accessible toilet.”

Read more about Democracy Denied

An illustration of DJP fellow Esther Suubbi and some of her peers.

Triumph Over Despair

DJP Fellow Esther Suubi shares her journey of finding purpose in supporting others with psychosocial disabilities. She explores the transformative power of peer support and her evolution to becoming an advocate for mental health. “Whenever I see people back on their feet and thriving, they encourage me to continue supporting others so that I don’t leave anyone behind,” she says. “It is a process that is sometimes challenging, but it also helps me to learn, unlearn, and relearn new ways that I can support someone – and myself.”

Read more about Triumph Over Despair

Daniel Mushimiyimana from the Rwanda Union of the Blind, sits in a row of chairs at a conference.

‘Our Vote Matters’

As Rwanda prepares for its presidential elections, voices like Daniel Mushimiyimana’s have a powerful message: every vote counts, including those of citizens with disabilities. Despite legal frameworks like the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, challenges persist in translating these into practical, accessible voting experiences for over 446,453 Rwandans with disabilities. To cast a vote, blind people need to take a sighted relative to read the ballot. An electoral committee member must be present, violating the blind person’s voting privacy. “We want that to change in these coming elections,” says Mushimiyimana.

Read more about ‘Our Vote Matters’

Srijana KC smiles at the camera. She has long dark hair and is wearing a red scarf and green cardigan sweater.

Voices Unsilenced

Often dismissed as a personal concern, mental health is a societal issue, according to Srijana KC, who works as a psychosocial counselor for the Nepali organization KOSHISH. KC’s own history includes a seizure disorder, which resulted in mental health challenges. She faced prejudice in both educational settings and the workplace, which pushed her towards becoming a street vendor to afford her medications. Now with KOSHISH, she coordinates peer support gatherings in different parts of Nepal. “It is crucial to instill hope in society, recognizing that individuals with psychosocial disabilities can significantly contribute,” she says.

Read more about Voices Unsilenced

Three fellows with the Disability Justice Project stand behind their cameras in a room. One is blind and one is low vision.

Capturing Vision Through Sound and Touch

Last summer, the DJP trained Indigenous activists with disabilities from the Pacific on the iPhone camera to create a documentary series on disability and climate change. With VoiceOver, the iPhone provides image descriptions for blind and low-vision filmmakers and offers other accessible features. “If you think about it, it doesn’t make sense for a blind person to use a camera,” says DJP filmmaker Ari Hazelman. “The iPhone gives you more avenues to tell your story in a more profound way as a blind person.”

Read more about Capturing Vision Through Sound and Touch