Lives Worth Living Premieres on the PBS Series Independent Lens: Powerful Documentary Chronicles the History of the American Disability Rights Movement

While there are close to 50 million Americans living with disabilities, Lives Worth Living is the first television history of their decades-long struggle for equal rights. Produced and directed by Eric Neudel, Lives Worth Living is a window into a world inhabited by people with an unwavering determination to live their lives like everyone else, and a look back into a past when millions of Americans lived without access to schools, apartment buildings, and public transportation a way of life unimaginable today. Lives Worth Living premieres on the Emmy Award-winning PBS series Independent Lens, on Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 10 PM (check local listings).

Lives Worth Living traces the development of the disability rights movement from its beginning following World War II, when thousands of disabled veterans returned home, through its burgeoning in the 1960s and 1970s, when it began to adopt the tactics of other social movements. Told through interviews with the movement’s pioneers, legislators, and others, Lives Worth Living explores Americans with a wide variety of disabilities including the blind, deaf, mentally, & physically challenged banded together to change public perception and policy. Through demonstrations and legislative battles, the disability rights community finally secured equal civil rights with the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, one of the most transformative pieces of civil rights legislation in American history.

To learn more about the film, and the issues involved, visit the film companion website at Get detailed information on the film, watch preview clips, read an interview with the filmmaker, and explore the subject in depth with links and resources. The site also features a Talkback section, where viewers can share their ideas and opinions.

About the Participants, in Order of Appearance: Fred Fay, (early leader in the disability rights movement); Ann Ford (director of the IL Nat’l Council on IL); Judy Heumann (leading disability rights activist); Judi Chamberlin (Mental Patients Liberation Front, a movement for the rights and dignity of people with mental illness); Dr. William Bronston (staff physician at Willowbrook dismissed after agitating for change)Bob Kafka (established ADAPT of TX): Zona Roberts (counselor, UC Berkeley’s Physically Disabled Student Prog & CIL, mother Ed Roberts); Pat Wright DREDF):
John Wodatch (Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Div US DoJ); Jack Duncan (Former Counsel, US House of Reps); Mary Jane Owen (disability rights activist, philosopher, policy expert, & writer) Marca Bristo (CEO, Access Living) Michael Winter (former director, Berkeley CIL); Lex Frieden (former director, Nat’l Council on the Handicapped; Dr. I. King Jordan, Pres Emeritus, Gallaudet Univ); Jeff Rosen (Gallaudet Univ); Sen Tom Harkin (D-Iowa); Bobby Silverstein(Chief Counsel, Sen Subcommittee on Disability Policy); Richard Thornburgh (US Att Gen ’88-’91) Tony Coelho (former Congressman, House Majority Whip ’86-’89);

1 Comment
  1. All throughout the history of humankind, no duality has held more power than that of good versus evil. Each side of this duality has built a sizable body of work; each side has been manifested in ways that have either made the human heart sing, or caused great oppression and grief. Though the human race has made great strides in social justice, it has, to date, never quite figured out how to behave and get along with each other. There seems to be some sort of deep-seated impulse or archetypal urge –the old man against humanity dictum we learned about in high school — that causes us to continue to discriminate and oppress. Many examples of man against humanity could be listed, but it is in the American civil rights movement, empowered by the American Constitution, where the good side of humanity has had a chance to shine. The American Constitution, and subsequent U.S. legislation addressing civil rights and the rights of people with disabilities, tilts the scales toward behavior that strives for the good and honorable, for the ethical and empathic, and for the higher promise of humanity. It can be argued that the sheer fairness of the Constitution, with its American legislative teeth, enables the evolution of human consciousness toward a higher condition, toward the purpose of good succeeding over evil.

    Though legislation alone will not solve all the problems within the human condition, it does open the door more widely for the possibility of freedom for all people, including freedom from discrimination. As all Americans know, though, in the fight for freedom and civil rights, progress comes with a price. One example of the price for freedom that grew from the civil rights movement is documented in the film Lives Worth Living. In this documentary, produced by Eric Neudel, we see “the development of consciousness of (the) pioneers who realized that in order to change the world they needed to work together. Through demonstrations and inside legislative battles, the disability rights community secured equal civil rights for all people with disabilities,” ( The film presents the timeline for “the development of the
    disability rights movement from its beginning following World War II, when thousands of disabled veterans returned home, through its burgeoning in the 1960s and 1970s, when it began to adopt the tactics of other social movements,” ( The film is described by Neudel as “both an historical documentary about the Disability Rights Movement and a biography about one man’s struggle to survive,” (

    Fred Fay (September 12, 1944 – August 20, 2011) was the inspiration for this film. Fred Fey “spearheaded the disability rights movement and changed the face of American society,”(
    LivesWorthLiving.htm). Fred Fey was profoundly disabled at age 16 after a devastating spinal cord injury. He survived the near-death experience, and though paralyzed from his neck down, was determined to not only survive, but thrive. Fey eventually developed a unique ability to steer his motorized bed, married, had children, and lived his life fully. Through his advocacy, human rights for people with disabilities became law. The film blends interviews with Fred, archival footage, and interview style expert commentary to tell his story, and the story, of the disability rights movement. The story is told in an oral history fashion, with archival footage that at times is stunningly reminiscent of the March on Selma, to create an accurate and compelling film. Fred Fey, and the many activists alongside him, made great strides toward achieving the Americans With Disabilities Act; his work has continues to inspire others even after his death:
    “BREAKING NEWS–the State Department in Washington, D.C. has requested a film screening on December 1st, and the United Nations in New York has requested a screening for December 2nd! Eric and Alison are excited and will be attending both screenings” (

Leave Your Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *