The Changing Reality of Disability in America: 2020  | Virtual Premiere

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The Changing Reality of Disability in America: 2020 | Virtual Premiere

This project reexamines the experience of disability in America, and shines a light on the stories of those all too often left behind.

By Institute for Human Centered Design

When and where

Date and time

Wednesday, August 19, 2020 · 9 - 11am PDT



About this event

Coinciding with the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the passage of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD) announces the Allan R. Meyers Memorial research project and documentary film “The Changing Reality of Disability in America: 2020.”

Collectively, the documentary and white paper will tell a data-driven and humanistic account about the experience of disability in America today. Inevitably, this is partly a story about what happens when the context fails and higher rates of disability are the by-product. A key focus of IHCD’s quantitative and qualitative research will be on people in socially and economically dis-advantaged communities from children to elders, telling the story about what works, and shar-ing examples of what it takes to create environments that minimize functional limitations and seamlessly deliver both a sense of belonging and choice.

“Functional limitation is a universal part of the human condition. But we need to understand the role of inequity in ‘producing’ mental and physical disability. This year in the US we have seen the evidence of that fact in COVID 19 and in Black Lives Matter. We cannot take action if we don’t start from the truth,” said IHCD’s Executive Director Valerie Fletcher.

The fundamental message of “The Changing Reality of Disability in America: 2020” is that dis-ability is created at the intersection of a person with a functional limitation and the environ-ment, understood holistically to include the physical, the social and cultural, the technology, the attitudinal, and the natural environments. The documentary is currently in the final stages of post-production and will be released via a virtual online premiere event on August 19th to coin-cide with the written report.

“The stories we are putting on screen represent archetypes that don’t fall within the conven-tional disability-rights narrative. America is changing, and it is important that our understand-ing of disability changes along with it, in order to create the conditions for everyone to fully participate in community life,” said PJ Moynihan of Digital Eyes Film Productions, Producer and Director of the documentary.

Alongside the documentary, IHCD will publish a written report with data visuals that provide a concise distillation of the evolving patterns, attitudes, and perspective on the importance of good data to inform change. The gold standard for disability research today is the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Function, Disability and Health (ICF) contextual definition of disability that gives weight to the barriers and facilitators of the environment. The story archetypes featured in “The Changing Reality of Disability in America: 2020” include:

  • Children and Toxic Environments
  • Chronic Homelessness & Behavioral Health
  • Veterans & Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Aging with Acquired Disabilities
  • Incarceration & Disability
  • Trauma & Substance Use Disorder

"While big data is a promising tool for understanding the prevalence of disability in America, we hope this project sheds light on the ways that it can fail us. We also hope that it sheds light on how we can better position big data to serve us. All of us,” said Erica Walker, Project Lead and Public Health Practitioner.

The project has been produced in memory of BU Professor of Public Health Dr. Allan R. Meyers. To view a promotional short for “The Changing Reality of Disability in America: 2020” and register for the exclusive online premiere of the film please visit

About the organizer

The Institute for Human Centered Design is a 40 year old design and education nonprofit based in Boston, MA, dedicated to enhancing the experiences of people of all ages, abilities, and cultures through excellence in design.