Alum Creates Award-Winning Disability Documentary

Reid Davenport  inspects his broken wheelchair during production.
Reid Davenport inspects his broken wheelchair during production.

“As a person with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair to get around,” Reid Davenport, SMPA BA ‘12 writes on his website, “I experience the daily obstacles that other chair-users face.”

As a junior at GW, Davenport thought it was time to transform that experience into something bigger.  A journalism major at GW, he developed an idea for a documentary film, when, after months of planning, he was unable to study abroad in Italy due to accessibility concerns.

“It seemed as if going to Florence had the potential to become months of misery,” Davenport recently wrote in an article for The Washington Post.

Watching his friends go abroad without him sparked something inside Davenport—he wanted people to see how other countries handle accessibility for people with disabilities.  This idea became Wheelchair Diaries: One Step Up, a documentary film that Davenport made with fellow SMPA grad Mark Abramson, SMPA BA ‘10.  Diaries had its U.S. premiere on July 27 and was named best short documentary at the Awareness Festival in Los Angeles.

Though he didn’t have a background in filmmaking, Davenport was undeterred.  Armed with his journalism background, support from professors, and Abramson, “an incredibly talented director of photography,” he set his sights on—where else?—Europe.

With help from the Luther Rice Fellowship and a Kickstarter campaign, Davenport and Abramson spent three weeks with their subjects, and visited cities in Ireland, Belgium, Italy and France.  Wheelchair Diaries follows three Europeans with disabilities and explores how their lives have been affected by accessibility issues..

“Before I shot the film,” says Davenport, “I wanted people to see the injustice that’s going on in Western Europe, regarding accessibility for people with disabilities. “Now, I realize it’s a lot more complicated than that.  I hope people can connect with the subjects and see not only people with disabilities in Europe, but people of the world. “

“No matter where we live, we have the same goal,” he adds, “for people with disabilities to really live their lives.”

For Davenport, living his life means a career in journalism and storytelling, and it was his passion for both that brought him to GW. “I fell in love with DC, and GW has the best journalism program in the city—it was a pretty easy decision after that,” he explains.

Davenport also credits his GW education for helping his film come to fruition, from the trust he built with professors to partnering with a fellow grad to shoot the film.  “It’s really cool to look back at how all the pieces came together,” he says.

Davenport is excited to see where the film goes. But most of all, he looks forward to sharing it with others: “It’s so rewarding when someone comes up to you and says, ‘I really enjoyed your film.’”

Want to know more?  Find about Davenport’s experiences in Europe by reading his recent piece in The Washington Post, and check out the Wheelchair Diaries trailer below!

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