Friday, August 28, 2015

Unbreakables: Life and Love on Disability Campus

My friend Megan posted on her Facebook timeline about this British series called Unbreakables: Life and Love on Disability Campus. I watched a teaser and it really peaked my interested so I spent an hour scouring the internet and managed to find all three episodes.

This three-part series following the students at National Star College in Gloucestershire, this series is part of BBC Three’s Defying the Label season on disability airing during the month of July.

Episode 1 - Beth in the Welsh Valleys prepares to leave home and start college. She is desperate to meet new friends and quickly falls for Ed, but Beth must come to terms with his learning disability, which is causing him to believe that he is a retired premiership footballer. Bradley is running for Student Union President, but he’ll have to usurp Nathan, who’s running for his second term… Meanwhile, roommates Xenon and Bradley banter effortlessly about which of them is more handsome, but as their time at college finishes, will leaving risk their friendship coming to an end?

Episode 2 -  We meet excitable new freshers as they embark on their first taste of freedom, including 20-year old Dan who has cerebral palsy and dreams of being a DJ. We’re also introduced to the Overton House family, a noisy, fun-loving bunch of friends who are keen to make the most of their time away from home by getting up to the usual student high-jinx of shots and truth-or-dare! The group includes Nicki, who wasn’t born with a disability but had a brain injury at 17, and an emotional trip home as Josh opens up to his mum as he remembers his teenage life.

Episode 3 - We meet the charismatic Lewis who hails from Newcastle and is followed as he embarks on a personal mission to find a Geordie accent for his communication device, with the help of his friend Rob’s voice. Meanwhile, while Morgan’s speech is sometimes unclear, he won’t let that hold him back in his search for gainful employment. For Sasha, the one thing she doesn’t want to do after college is return home to live with mum and dad, and we follow her struggle to move into suitable housing.

One of the big things I really liked about The Unbreakables is its portrayal of real disabled students learning about themselves the same way all students do when they leave home. These students are not typecast to be figures of inspiration or sympathy. The series did not dramatize or minimize disability, they showed us how living with a disability really is.

I felt they presented an honest and informative depiction of the lives of these students with complex disabilities, who just want to be treated like young adults. They are resilient, matter-of-fact, mostly cheerful, sometimes sad, often funny people, who fancy each other and wonder about the future and hope to get a job after college. I found myself laughing with the students, and feeling the tug of the heartstrings with some of their stories of bullying and hate. 

These students were very open and honest about their lives and loves, the difficulties they face everyday and having a reason to wake up in the morning. There was this one story that really got to me. Two wheelchair bound final year students Xenon and Bradley talk about how they can walk in their dreams but know that it won't last as they must wake up. Another student Morgan say when he talks he doesn't hear his speech impediment but when others hear him talk they think he's drunk or thick (stupid).  There is a girl named Nicki who was your everyday teenager but was in the horrible car accident when she was 17 that left her with brain damage. She talks about her life before and how everything can change in a blink of an eye. There is another girl Sasha who is trying to find a place to live as she is leaving collage but the "state" (or the British equivalent) keeps sending her to senior homes and all she wants is to live among her peers. So many amazing stories and through the ups and downs they remain cheerful and upbeat.  These students were truly themselves, and their concerns were real and not scripted.

There was this very sweet moment where they break the fourth wall as Xenon, the same student who dreamt of walking, lay recovering in hospital from a hip replacement, he drowsily asked if the scene would be used in the film. When the filmmaker asked if that’s what he wanted, Xenon responded ‘I’d like them to see the challenges that I’ve faced, I’d like them to see what I’ve gone through in my life. And hopefully when they see that, they’ll understand a little, they’ll understand a bit more about disabled people.'

Though this series is about the students, the school itself is pretty amazing. National Star is one of a kind, not only in the support and care its staff provides; but in the way it makes the students feel at home, and totally unselfconscious. Once they leave college, they don’t want to be considered special... they want to be considered equal. I hope this series educates the public and helps disabled people find equality.

I would highly recommend finding and watching this series (episode 3 is up on YouTube HERE). It opened my eyes to some of the challenges the disabled members of our society face everyday. You can go to National Star Collage website and read more about the series and school. You can also find out what happen to those students who were featured after the cameras stopped . Lots of great information.

No comments:

Post a Comment