The Autism Media Lab explores barriers to inclusion for persons with autism through a unique fusion of disability studies and documentary film. In partnership with Ability Central Philanthropy, UCLA Disability Studies created a model curriculum featuring UCLA undergraduate students learning directly from non-speaking, minimally-speaking, or unreliably-speaking individuals with autism as Community Teachers. This experiential course ensures that discovery comes from immersion in both scholarship and the lived experiences of individuals facing barriers to inclusion.
In its initial offering in 2019, the Lab created an innovative two-quarter course with undergraduate students partnered with Community Teachers as research teams and film crews. Faculty from both Disability Studies and Film along with a graduate student TA from World Arts and Cultures guided the teams. The teams produced six short documentary films and film toolkits, each exploring communication barriers in various community settings with a goal of identifying pathways to inclusion in education, employment, health care, community safety, places of worship, and the general community.
Community Teachers held initial meetings with students. The lab hosted a public screening of Deej to introduce the UCLA campus to the themes of the Lab.
Students explored issues related to autism and inclusion as well as documentary filmmaking. The Disability Studies course material focused on the history and perspectives of autistic self-advocacy and neurodiversity, barriers to inclusion in various community settings, and shifting views and media portrayals of autism. The film course material focused on the technical, artistic, and ethical aspects of documentary filmmaking, and was fully tailored to the production of creative documentary shorts. The students, working with their Community Teachers, developed ideas about the films they would make.
The crews filmed their documentaries in various community locations. They edited their films using the tools learned during the winter quarter. At the end of the quarter, students assisted in planning and hosting a premiere for the films — Inside the Frame — on the UCLA campus.