In the critically acclaimed film, “The Sessions,” John Hawkes delivers a sensitive and moving portrayal of real-life journalist and poet Mark O’Brien. As a result of contracting polio as a child, O’Brien was paralyzed from the neck down and dependent on an iron lung, which he could leave for only limited amounts of time.
While the film is partly about living with physical limitations, it is also about something much more profound — how the connections forged between people have the power to lift the spirit, despite the considerable challenges life can bring.
Hawkes agreed to share his reflections on this fundamental part of the human experience in a submission to “What’s Your Connection?”, a national grassroots initiative that invites everyone — famous or not — to help illustrate the importance of connections among all people, including people with disabilities. Here’s an excerpt:
“From an early age, at home and in school, I was fortunate to be taught that all people are equal regardless of color or creed. Our 5th grade teacher played us an LP of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. We could feel America changing, shifting, opening her eyes. Looking back, I wonder where the students with disabilities were and why they weren’t part of the discussion. Clearly it was a group that we hadn’t opened up to; that we didn’t see. Thankfully much has changed for the better, for all our citizens….”
Hawkes’ insightful words help reaffirm the importance of our work in the Office of Disability Employment Policy. Every day, we strive to ensure that when talking about employment, all people — including millions of Americans with disabilities — are part of the discussion. Because, as O’Brien’s life so clearly illustrated, work is an important means for forging the connections that make us who we are.
“What’s Your Connection” is running through July 31, 2013, in honor of the 10th anniversary of Disability.gov, the federal government’s central source of information on disability-related programs and services. Participating is easy: Entries can be in the form of a photograph with a caption of up to 250 words or a captioned video no longer than 1 minute. To learn more, and to read Hawkes’ full submission, visit the “What’s Your Connection?” Web page.
All of us are touched by disability in our lives, some in obvious ways and others much more subtle. Perhaps you have a family member, neighbor, friend or colleague with a disability. Or maybe, like me, you have one yourself. Whatever your story or experience, we’d like to hear it. Tell us, what’s your connection?
Disability.gov is managed by ODEP in collaboration with 21 federal agency partners.
Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.