banner

The New Stuff

2177 Views

SXSW: Transforming Society’s Image of Disability


What started as a small music festival of 700 attendees in 1987 has turned into one of the most prominent gatherings in the nation today. At South by Southwest each March, emerging artists sign record deals, independent filmmakers get their big break, and startup tech companies go viral. The founders of the festival had a vision — to showcase local talent to the rest of the world — and it has since morphed into a massive meeting of leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators from multiple industries who are pushing limits, breaking down barriers, and changing how you and I go about our everyday lives.

Photo Credit: Cal Holman

Photo Credit: Cal Holman

So, why are we telling you about SXSW on Wheel:Life? Because this year, the disability community has not been left out of the lineup. From feature films to daily panel discussions, here’s what we’ve saved on our SXSW favorites list.

Disability-Themed Films

woman-wheelchair-outdoors

This year’s film festival includes two world premieres featuring protagonists with disabilities. Any One Of Us, a Red Bull Media House documentary, follows professional mountain biker Paul Basagoitia after sustaining a career-ending spinal cord injury. Watching his new world unfold, the audience accompanies him as he struggles through rehabilitation and grapples with accepting the reality of his situation. To help spectators better understand his journey, the director sprinkles in anecdotes from seasoned wheelchair users, many of which you will recognize if you’re a regular reader of Wheel:Life. Any One Of Us is a story of perseverance and hope as well as a testament to the importance of a reliable support network.

Photo Credit: Dylan Johnson

Photo Credit: Dylan Johnson

In the comedy/drama category, filmmaker Richard Wong presents Come As You Are, an adaptation of the 2011 Belgian film Hasta La Vista. Viewers go on a road trip to Montreal with three young men with disabilities who are on a quest to lose their innocence and claim their independence from their overprotective parents. Inspired by a true story, we can’t wait to see how their adventure plays out.

Let’s Talk About Accessibility and Inclusion

While the film and music festivals at SXSW may be known to the college crowd as the spring break party of the year, the conference portion attracts professionals of all ages. Keynote speakers are often distinguished journalists or Fortune 500 executives, but session presenters range from public officials to bloggers to founders of small businesses.        

Photo Credit: Ann Alva Wieding

Photo Credit: Ann Alva Wieding

Molly Kettle, Director of Zappos Adaptive, is one such presenter. Thanks to Zappos and a handful of other brands, finding fashionable clothing tailored to people with physical disabilities is slowly becoming less of a hassle. Kettle will moderate a panel at SXSW this year titled How Adaptive Design is Transforming BrandsShe is joined by amputee model Cacsmy Brutus, Ottobock’s Melissa Langley, and founder of Runway of Dreams Mindy Scheier. The industry still has a lot of work to do to meet our standards, but this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Photo Credit: Samantha Burkardt

Photo Credit: Samantha Burkardt

Google is also on the conference schedule. If you haven’t been paying attention, the global tech giant started letting its users chime in on the wheelchair-friendliness of businesses listed on their platform as of July 2017 and added a feature allowing users to find accessible public transit routes in the Maps app in select cities last year. A company technical program manager, Kiran Kaja, will present Accessibility: Designing for the Other Billion Users where he’ll discuss how Google Assistant is helping people with disabilities interact with technology and how other companies can design products with accessibility in mind.

Other panels that have piqued our interest touch on subjects such as diversity in media, accessible transportation, how prosthetics are changing adaptive sports, robotics and AI for accessibility, and tapping into the lifehacking skills of the disabled community for product design. Hip hop duo 4 Wheel City will also be making a cameo to share their story of living with paralysis as a result of gun violence.

Photo Credit: Dylan Johnson

Photo Credit: Dylan Johnson

Times Are Changing

When we hear about the concept of inclusion in the mainstream media, the disability community is often pushed into the background behind other marginalized groups or worse yet, completely ignored. But by the looks of this year’s lineup, SXSW seems to be leading the way toward a truly inclusive society. When accessibility and inclusion are on the agenda of a major, multi-industry conference, it’s a sign that the times are changing. Let’s do everything in our power to keep this discussion going.

Editor’s Note:  SXSW takes place from March 8 – 17, 2019, in Austin, Texas, and is held in multiple venues. If you’re planning on attending, check accessibility information of each location ahead of time. Otherwise, stay tuned into Wheel:Life regularly over the next few months for in-depth interviews from various SXSW presenters.

About the Author
betsy-bailey-headshot

Betsy Bailey has a diverse background including experience in marketing research at American Express, business operations and client relations with 601am, travel and culinary writing with VegDining, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.

Betsy has been writing for Wheel:Life since January of 2017 and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. She also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!

Recently Published

»

How Veteran Todd Kemery Stays Active with His Tetraplegia with the Help of Peristeen® for Bowel Management

Editor’s Note: Just a couple of weeks before finishing his military ...

Three men on an outdoor stone staircase. One of them is carrying another in a backpack. The third is spotting from behind.
»

We Carry Kevan Is Redefining Accessibility

Editor’s Note: In 2016, Kevan Chandler and a group of friends took ...

»

On Ice, Rock, or Indoors, Paradox Says Climbing Is for Everyone

Editor’s Note: This year, Wheel:Life is partnering with Paradox ...

A side view of Jayden sitting in his wheelchair smiling at the camera. There is a grassy lawn and a lake in the background. The sun is setting.
»

Jayden Chapman Shares His Pursuit of New Goals Post-Injury

Editor’s Note: As a lover of movement, all aspects of Jayden ...

»

Fixer Upper Family Gives Back through Raising Wheels Foundation

Editor’s Note: When Melissa and Jody Copp noticed their firstborn ...

»

Here’s What Happened in 2019 — Tell Us What Yoocan Do in 2020

If you’ve been following Wheel:Life for a while, you’ve probably ...

»

How Anthony Orefice Spends His Bonus Time Post-Injury

Editor’s Note: In 1993, Anthony Orefice struck a telephone pole ...

»

Chasing Adventure: How These Storytellers Do It and Yoocan Too

Think back to the last time you experienced a little adventure in ...

»

From St. Louis to LA: Meet the Newest Rollette Conner Lundius

Growing up in a small, cozy town in Southern Illinois, Rollettes star ...