This N.H. college student turned his search for life advice into a new documentary: 'My Disability Roadmap'
My Disability Roadmap is a new documentary film from Concord filmmaker Dan Habib and his son Samuel Habib. The film follows Samuel, who is in his early 20s, as he seeks guidance from disability activists on everything from leaving home to dating.
Samuel is a college student with cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He drives a 350-pound wheelchair and uses a communication device.
“No one tells you how to be an adult, let alone an adult with a disability,” Samuel says in the film.
Samuel and Dan joined NHPR’s Rick Ganley to give him a preview of their new award-winning film, which is playing all this week at Red River Theatres in Concord and on the New York Times website. Below is a transcript of their conversation.
Rick Ganley: Dan, we've had you on Morning Edition before to talk about another one of your films, Mr. Connolly Has ALS. That film follows former Concord High School principal Gene Connolly's ALS diagnosis. Now this new film, it's much more personal. Samuel is the main subject. How did you and Samuel decide to make the film together?
Dan Habib: Well, Samuel actually was a consultant on that film, Mr. Connolly Has ALS, and he's been interested in video and film for years now. And, you know, I said, why don't we do something together, Samuel? And as we started brainstorming, I thought about the fact that I've been telling the stories of other people with disabilities and trying to do it sensitively, but I'm not a person with a disability. And it really was time to put people with disabilities in the forefront. Samuel, first and foremost, he was ready to tell his own story. And we also decided the entire cast would be people with disabilities and even the majority of the production and outreach crew are people with disabilities. So it's just an effort to make sure that people are telling their own lived experience through Samuel's own eyes and cameras.
Rick Ganley: And Samuel, you really made that point in the film. What was the most challenging part of creating the film?
Samuel Habib: Setting up and getting all the interviews done was the most challenging part of creating the film. We had to fly or drive a long way for the interviews. On our flight to Indianapolis, they turned my power wheelchair on its side both ways, and it got damaged both ways. On our trip to D.C., we had a six-hour flight delay, and then as we were finally boarding our plane, another passenger talked down to me like I was a 3-year-old. I wanted to curse at her, but didn't. On our [New York City] trip I had a seizure. But we still got the filming done on all the trips.
Rick Ganley: Can I ask you what some of the parts of the film that you most enjoyed?
Samuel Habib: I love to travel. So my favorite part of making the film was going around the country with my dad, seeing new places, filming with my GoPros, and meeting all of these cool adults with disabilities like Keith Jones, who is a hip hop musician and human rights advocate. He is hilarious.
Rick Ganley: There is a lot of great humor in the film and I think you really bring that to light. Dan, what about you? What were your challenges and moments of joy in making the film?
Dan Habib: Well, as Samuel mentioned, every time we get on the road, there's a new adventure to be had. I mean, traveling around the country with a 350-pound wheelchair and a lot of medical equipment supplies is challenging, but I also think making sure we picked a very diverse group of people to talk to and interview. Samuel did a lot of research, and he really wanted to reach out to people who experience disabilities in a lot of different ways — whether it's different types of disabilities like autism, or one young man, Andrew, has fetal alcohol syndrome, or whether it's different lived experiences around gender identity, around dating, around going to college and work, around race and ethnicity. So that was a challenge, but a really rewarding challenge, to make sure the film has as much diversity and richness of experience as possible.
Rick Ganley: And Samuel, I know the mentors that you do interview in this film, they really had powerful advice. These are really strong advocates. Is there one piece of advice that you most took to heart that may benefit other young adults with disabilities?
Samuel Habib: The advice I got from one of my mentors, Maysoon Zayid, was you are not alone, find your community. That was powerful advice because I have always had a strong community, starting with Beaver Meadow Elementary School. I am continuing to find my community at NHTI Community College, in the disability rights community, and work at the Westchester Institute for Human Development and in my hometown of Concord.
Rick Ganley: What about hopes and dreams for the future?
Samuel Habib: I dream about getting married, having kids and making more films. I am thinking about transferring to the University of New Hampshire in the future and traveling around the country and the world. I want to go to the Football Hall of Fame, Mount St. Helens, a Florida Gators game with my cousins, London and Europe.
Rick Ganley: Dan, how about you? When you hear Samuel talk about things he'd like to do and maybe make more films in the future, how does that make you feel?
Dan Habib: Well, I love the idea of making more films with Samuel. This has been an incredibly meaningful process to work with my 22-year-old son. And we're actually going to be continuing to work for the next year on a feature-length version of the film. So we have another year of work of filming and production, and then there will probably be another year or two of presentations and screenings. And we're already talking about future ideas for the film going forward. When Samuel talks about all the travel adventures he wants to take, I just say, keep saving your money, because you’ve got to start paying for your own way on these trips.
Rick Ganley: Samuel, what are you hoping that people take away from this film? What are your hopes and dreams for it?
Samuel Habib: My goal for the film is that people won't talk down to people with disabilities. I want everyone to know that people with disabilities demand respect and rights. And I want other young adults with disabilities to have the same opportunities that I have had for health care, inclusive education, college, assistive technology, jobs, making friends and independent living. In September of 2021, I moved into my own home, an addition on my parent's place. I want people to learn from disability role models like Judy Heumann and Bob Williams. I want to help people learn how to live a full life with a disability as they transition to an adult by focusing on all the possibilities of relationships, work, education and disability rights.