Once upon a time, many Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities were sent to live at the Ladd School in Exeter. Reasons were varied – a lack of services, overburdened parents, doctors who saw the problems not the people, and a belief in the early 20th century that people with DD were society’s failures, best put away from the general population.
Meeting some of the people helping to make the documentary, “Best Judgment: Ladd School Lessons,” makes a mockery of the above reasons – that’s because those filmmakers are themselves developmentally disabled.
Take Jimmy Isom, who grew up at Ladd. He’s a member of Advocates in Action, a self-advocacy organization for people with DD, and has been working on the documentary since its inception.
“When I went to Ladd School, Ladd School wasn’t for me. At that time, I had to go there because I didn’t have a place to go – either there or on the streets, and I didn’t want to go on the streets. I had to go there,” he said recently.
These days Isom lives in North Providence. He’s been working with Rhode Island musician and songwriter Mark Cutler on a musical score for the documentary. Isom’s always loved singing. Working with Cutler has sharpened and expanded his singing.
“Since beginning their collaboration, Jimmy’s singing has changed markedly. His performances are more polished, and he’s begun experimenting with harmonies, which is something he has never done before. Mark has not been tutoring him!” reads a essay about the project from AIA. “Their sessions have involved viewing film footage and jamming. We have come to realize that Jimmy’s remarkable improvement must be the result of his acceptance as a peer by a fellow musician.”
Bob Macaux of Cowesett is also working on the documentary. Macaux, who has Down syndrome, is co-director, working with independent filmmaker Jim Wolpaw. He is featured in the video attached here.
“The purpose of the film is to remove the stigma that people with disabilities face every day,” Macaux said. “People with disabilities have seen terrible things from the Ladd School including segregation, prejudice and … being branded with stigma. Those people didn’t deserve to be tormented…. I believe this film can remove the stigma and changing people’s perspective on us as unique individuals.”
But filmmaking is expensive, so several weeks ago, Advocates in Action launched a fundraiser on indiegogo, an online fundraising platform, looking to raise $50,000. With 14 days to go, they are still looking for a little over $20,000 to reach their goal.
“We’ve been doing it piecemeal and we haven’t had any funding [until now] and so I’m just hoping, once we’re done with the campaign, we can get things moving,” explained Deb Kney of AIA. The hope? That the documentary would one day be shown on PBS or, even HBO. If you want to help,
Click here to watch a recent news story from Channel 10 on the filmmakers and their plans.