I am able

Local documentary showcases the journey of nine Quad Citizens with disabilities


Katy Babcock

the cast of “I Am Able” receives a standing ovation at the premier of the documentary.

Katy Babcock, Copy Editor

In a society that preaches a preconceived notion of perfection, narratives not fitting certain ideals are lost. And if such stories are told, it’s in censored moderation. This suppression is the case for 15% of the world’s population. 

Approximately 240 million people have a disability that severely affects their ability to function by society’s expectations. And, although making up a sizable portion of the people on this planet, individuals with disabilities are constantly overlooked, especially in the media. 

Ninety-five percent of characters with disabilities on TV are portrayed by actors without disabilities. 

A local film studio has taken matters into its own hands to change this, creating a documentary about the lives of Quad Cities natives with disabilities. 

The film, “I Am Able,” premiered at the Putnam Museum on Nov. 2. 

Its nine stars were all participants in the 2019-2020 season of the Penguin Project. Seven of those nine are still engaged in the Penguin Project today.

The Penguin Project is a national organization founded in 2004 to shine a light on young people with disabilities through the performing arts. The Quad Cities chapter of the Penguin Project debuted in 2016 and has put on six successful shows since. 

One of the featured actors is PV Junior, Halea Damm. “[My favorite part of the documentary] was seeing how young I was,” said Damm. This year will be her third in the Penguin Project. She feels she has grown a lot as a person in such a short time with the organization’s support. 

The process of filming “I Am Able” was a highly immersive and organic one. “Crew members even came into our house to interview us,” mentioned Damm’s mother. 

Even the darkest and most emotional storylines were included, ranging from self-harm to surgical procedures. Fresh Films is passionate about taking away labels and breaking the stigma around people with disabilities. 

“You see them as people and not the labels they are given,” said the film’s director, Estlin Feigley. “The bravery and power [these] families and artists have is something I wish to see in my everyday life”

With the Penguin Project and “I Am Able,” people who are typically disregarded because of their disabilities are brought to the forefront. There, they can bask in the feeling of being seen, heard and appreciated as they are.

Opportunities like these teach them they don’t have to hide or change themselves in order to be appreciated. Additionally, they destigmatize disabilities, promote understanding and encourage inclusion. 

“I Am Able” will be available on a major streaming platform next year.