SMPA Journalism & Mass Communication senior Reid Davenport dreamed of studying abroad in Italy during his junior year. After GW accepted his application, he was informed by the study abroad administrators in Florence that much of the country was not wheelchair accessible. Davenport, who often relies on a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, was discouraged from traveling abroad. Rather than give up, Davenport decided to confront the issue with a camera.
Utilizing the skills he learned in School of Media and Public Affairs’ assistant professor Jason Osder’s “Introduction to Digital Media Production” course, Davenport choose to create a documentary exploring the lack of handicapped accessibility in Europe. He resolved to travel to Europe on his own to complete the project.
To fund his documentary and the traveling it would require, Davenport first applied for and received a $5,000 Luther Rice Collaborative Fellowship from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. He then sought to raise a matching amount of funds using Kickstarter, a website that crowdsources funding for creative projects. The online fundraising campaign exceeded his expectations, raising over $8,000 from more than 150 donors.
Thanks to the support he received, Davenport spent three weeks in January with a cameraman traveling to Dublin, Brussels, Naples, Florence, and Paris to document the challenges of navigating Europe in a wheelchair. He also interviewed 13 Europeans knowledgeable about the issue, ranging from a fellow college student in a wheelchair to a director of a disability advocacy group, to explore the problems and potential solutions further.
His trip was not without struggles. While there, he grappled with airport security, a broken wheelchair, and finding handicapped-accessible public transportation and taxis.
“I experienced my fair share of overwhelming challenges during my trip,” says Davenport. “I hoped to capture and portray those challenges in the documentary.”
When asked what he hopes to achieve with his film, titled Wheelchair Diaries, Davenport explains, “I want to share with viewers the experience of living with a disability, and try to catalyze change for accessibility. I also hope viewers not only get a sense of how different it is to be disabled, but despite our differences, see how much we all are the same.”
Davenport currently is editing the final version of the film, but it already has garnered praise. During GW Research Days last week, he presented his documentary’s rough cut, which earned him the third-place prize in the Undergraduate Humanities and Creative Arts poster contest for his work. He is planning a premiere screening in late-April for his donors and friends to see the finished product. Professor Osder believes it will be a great success.
“Wheelchair Diaries truly is an extraordinary project,” he says. “I feel confident we will see his documentary in many film festivals in the future.”