At Bowdoin, where students share roughly similar learning abilities, it can be easy to overlook the challenges facing children with special needs. But for photojournalist Dan Habib, the issue of mainstreaming special needs students into the public education system is not only pertinent—it is personal. His documentary "Including Samuel," to be screened at Bowdoin today, chronicles his family's experiences after his son, Samuel, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
"Making this film helped me face my fears and biases head-on, both as a director and as a father," wrote Habib in an email to the Orient. "The film became my outlet for processing this new reality in our lives."
The film was shot over the course of four years and approaches issues of disability from a multitude of perspectives, reiterating the importance of including children with special needs into all aspects of everyday life.
"As a father, I wanted to show the general public why I felt so strongly that inclusion is the most important factor to giving Samuel and other children with disabilities the opportunity for a happy and fulfilling life," said Habib. "As a journalist, I didn't want to sugarcoat the issue. I wanted the film to be as complex as the reality of successful inclusion."
Habib is not alone in his personal connection to this issue. Senior Sarah Pritzker's familiarity with the subject has driven her commitment to exploring the issue of inclusion.
"My brother who has special needs was the first child to be mainstreamed through public education in the state of Minnesota," she said. "And so this is an issue very near and dear to my heart."
Pritzker is a co-leader of the McKeen Center's Bear Buddies program for children with physical and mental disabilities, and it was she who first proposed that Habib's film be screened at Bowdoin.
"Sarah has been exceptionally committed to the Bear Buddies program," said Interim Director for the McKeen Center Sarah Seames. "This is something she is very passionate about, so when she approached us with this idea, we were eager to help."
Pritzker hopes that the screening will educate the public about current problems in the education system and the importance of inclusion and mainstreaming.
"The term 'mainstreaming' refers to having one classroom as the typical learning environment," she explained. "It is important because it offers the support of special education but also integrates the children. In this way everyone is accepted and welcomed for the diversity they bring to a community."
Habib's film addresses this concern extensively.
"Today, inclusion is still happening inconsistently throughout the country," he said. "It varies state-to-state, town-to-town and classroom-to-classroom."
The intimate perspective through which Habib tells Samuel's story achieves its goal of conveying the significance of this issue. "I have no problem with Samuel using a wheelchair for the rest of his life," he said. "He can have an incredibly happy and fulfilling life, as long as society continues to evolve and fully include people with disabilities in all aspects of our community."
Habib spoke to the importance of addressing such an issue in a college setting.
"Many students at Bowdoin will feel connected to the major themes of this film in some way," he said. "Almost every profession involves disability or education at some point."
Pritzker, too, noted the relevance of the topic at Bowdoin.
"I'm hoping people will cultivate a general awareness from this film," she said. "Unfortunately, disability rights issues aren't at the forefront of what we think about. People still use the word 'retarded' all the time. After seeing something like this, people will realize the effects of language like that."
"Including Samuel" will be shown today at 1 p.m. in Smith Auditorium in Sills Hall.
"I truly believe that appreciating what everyone offers is essential to forming strong communities," said Pritzker. "Habib definitely shows that. We have a lot to learn from a film like this."