Director Dan Habib's latest documentary, Intelligent Lives, adds to his already impressive portfolio of films that explore the disability experience and promote the inclusion of all people. His former films include Including Samuel (2008), Who Cares about Kelsey (2013), and Mr. Connelly Has ALS (2018). In Intelligent Lives, Habib tells the stories of three young adults, each of whom is navigating the transition into a variety of inclusive adult roles and settings. Simultaneously, the film explores the persistent barriers to inclusion, in particular the ideological use of intelligence to legitimize segregation.

The stories of each focal young adult are compelling and well-developed. To begin with Naieer, he attends an inclusive high school in Boston, where he blossoms into a young artist. Habib documents Naieer's participation in a range of inclusive classes, including art, gym, and social studies, and in social settings among high school friends. While other schools might have focused on Naieer's deficits and placed him in a segregated program, administrators at the Henderson Inclusion School position inclusion as an integral part of their school's success. One administrator states, "Having students with significant disabilities has helped us to really become more careful, individualized, personal educators." Naieer's transition team works closely with him and his family to explore and support his next steps in life. In this process, he develops his art portfolio, exhibits his art, attends a conference on diversity in art, and investigates college options.

Whereas Naieer is transitioning from high school to college, Micah is completing college and considering his next steps. Micah remembers learning that he was diagnosed with an IQ of 40 and that, according to the professionals, he would not be able to work or live independently. Despite these low expectations, Micah moved from Michigan to New York to attend the Inclusive University at Syracuse University. As a college student, he attends classes, lives with a roommate, has a girlfriend, and makes his own decisions. Micah explains that he still talks to his parents but "it's my final decision of how I want to live my life." He elaborates on the valuable role of the "respectful support" he receives. For example, he meets monthly with his support team and they collaboratively think through his upcoming academic, social, and professional decisions. When Micah is asked what he will do after graduation, he states, "I'll think about that Tuesday at my meeting." He knows he has the support he needs to move forward into the next phase of his life.

Naomi is entering the world of competitive employment. In the process, her team helps her explore several different settings. With assistance from a job coach, she works at a food cart at the statehouse, where she interacts with customers and learns to use the cash register. She also works as an intern at a Beauty school, where she enjoys the community of people and the varied tasks. Through the process, Naomi draws on varied supports, including a "social capital meeting" in which she and her support team identify a network of people within her community who might connect her to possible employment opportunities. When she is hired at the school, she says, "I'm happy today… I did it." Her supports focus on more than just employment, though. By building her social capital, Naomi maintains and strengthens her deep connections within her Haitian community, weaving together a rich life of family, friends, and work.

As these stories intertwine and unfold, narration by actor Chris Cooper provides historical and academic perspectives. He explains the many ways that conceptions of intelligence have been used to stigmatize and segregate, briefly reviewing the histories of the IQ test, eugenics, institutionalization, and sheltered and unpaid work. He relates the discouraging statistics regarding the status of inclusion, including that only 17% of children with intellectual disabilities are included in regular education and only 15% of people with intellectual disabilities are employed. Moreover, he draws on his personal story as a parent, explaining, "The IQ test told us nothing about my child's potential, about who he was as a person. Can any attempt to measure intelligence predict a person's value or ability to contribute meaningfully to the world?" The narration provides an accessible overview of the historical and contemporary resistance to inclusion.

This film is a terrific tool for the classroom, especially for fields such as disability studies, education, sociology, and social work. Intelligent Lives offers successful stories of inclusion and effective tools to support it, while showcasing the value of lives lived together in a diverse community. The film is upbeat and inspires a belief in the potential for and virtues of inclusion, countering the long legacy of pessimism regarding people with intellectual disabilities. Moreover, the audience gains familiarity with a range of tools such as job coaching and internships, educational transition teams, and social capital meetings. Rather than top-down professional and agency-driven approaches, these "respectful supports" center the values, interests, and relationships of the person with a disability and offer assistance without usurping control. Whereas students often simplify disability oppression to ignorance and inclusion to an individual choice to believe in oneself, Intelligent Lives deftly opens up opportunities for considering how systems – educational, employment, and social services - must transform to better deliver on the promises of equal rights.

While a very optimistic film, it does provide opportunities to discuss historical and contemporary barriers to inclusion. For example, Naieer's father describes the dangers his son – an autistic man of color who behaves and moves in ways that might seem erratic to those unfamiliar with him - faces in an ableist and racist society prone to punitive responses to diversity. He states, "I want him to go into a world where he's looked at as a fellow citizen of the world, not someone, "Oh, there's a tall Black guy who's acting weird. Let me call backup.""

The film's focus on young adults and transition is very welcome. Too often, service systems assume and even enforce stagnancy in the adult lives of people with disabilities. It's as if there is one big transition from school to work or day program, and then the next decades are fixed. In contrast with this approach, Intelligent Lives documents people navigating multiple transitions with an understanding that lives, preferences, relationships, and opportunities are fluid. Inclusion requires systems of support that undergird the exercise of rights throughout one's life, not a single transition from an educational bureaucracy for children to another bureaucracy for adults. Furthermore, although the film focuses on only three stories, it is attentive to diversity. Intelligent Lives shows successful inclusion across different areas of life, in different states, and for people of different races, ethnicities, and genders.

To further enhance its educational potential, the film's website offers many useful resources. The screening toolkit provides a poster, images, sample press release, and film description. The discussion guide, available in English and Spanish, offers ideas for facilitating a vibrant dialogue after the film. And, a recorded panel discussion by the film's stars updates us on their lives and offers additional insights about the film and inclusion.

Any one film cannot meet all agendas, and as such it has limitations. There were times when I wanted the film to more forcefully critique today's schools and social service systems to showcase the extraordinary barriers to inclusion people with disabilities face. It might have delved more deeply into the struggles disabled people face in attaining inclusion, even for those supportive of it. For example, we briefly see a young teacher struggling to manage her inclusive classroom, but Intelligent Lives does not show teachers who disregard the potential of students with disabilities, protective parents seeking to shield their children from the dangers of inclusion, or peers who bully and stigmatize. We see little of the fierce advocacy typically required to attain inclusion across systems and the lifespan. While attentive to showcasing success across a diversity of people, Intelligent Lives says little about the intersectional history of segregation and the ways that race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability interwove into reinforcing systems of oppression that continue today to heighten the vulnerability of particular communities. While the academic in me wanted a deeper and more critical analysis, I appreciated that Habib did not primarily focus on struggles but rather on successes. He resists the urge to overwhelm the audience with the barriers. Instead, he offers audiences a clear portrait of what inclusion can look like, including the structural supports to attain it, and as such offers a stepping stone forward – and an invitation to take that step - to build more inclusive societies.

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Copyright (c) 2021 Allison C. Carey

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