Last Wednesday night I was able to attend the Disability Awareness Movie Night, or DAMN Good Movie Night at Park Center on Campus. This semester's film was "BLINDSIGHT" a 2006 Documentary by Lucy Walker. The film follows a group of Tibetan students who are blind, as they train and then climb Mount Everest.
Going into the film, all I knew was that the movie was about children who were blind who climbed Everest. To be honest, to me it sounded foolish. When I think of mountain climbing I think of the breath taking views from the top of the mountain, something that these children wouldn't be able to fully understand.
How wrong I was.
Luckily, throughout the film my opinions changed. In fact, it changed within the first 5 minutes when the documentary introduced Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to reach the summit of Everest. The film showed his 2001 climb and how challenging and impressive the feat was.
The film then introduced Sabriye Tenberken, a woman who is blind herself, who went to Tibet to establish the first school for the blind. In Tibet people who are blind are outcasts. Their religion teaches them that in previous lives they have done something awful and have therefore been punished in this life by being blind. This reasoning creates a lot of hostility towards the students who are blind in the film. It was heartbreaking to listen to the one child explain that he knows it is his fault he is blind, and in a previous life he must have done something wrong to cause it. Since the children who are blind are often outcasts, they are often forced to live on the streets and beg for money just to get by. This is why Tenberken wanted to establish a school.
Sabriye hears of Erik's climb to the top of Everest and writes to try and get him to come to visit the school and talk to the children about his climbs and accomplishments. Somewhere along the line a plan is developed to have a select group of children from the school climb with Erik and his crew to the top of one of the summits next to Everest. Six students are chosen due to their desire and drive to climb.
Erik and his crew then travel to Tibet and begin to train the students to climb. After weeks of training the students finally begin their climb. The rest of the film shows their trek up the mountain, with little tangents going into the details of each child's life scattered throughout. While climbing the group runs into problems including one student who struggles to keep up with the rest of the group, and even students who begin to show medical problems caused by the high altitudes.
Throughout the whole climb one question keeps coming up between the adults on the trip and that is why are they doing this? Erik seems to think that its to reach the top, to show that they can reach the top and do something remarkable. Sabriye on the other hand thinks it is more of a team building event, that the important lesson is that they need to rely on each other and establish close relationships with each other. As the group final reaches the Advanced Base Camp, located at 21,300 feet, some of the students show signs of altitude medical problems and the doctor on the trip recommends they turn around and go back. Three of the students go down while the others rest at the base camp.
The next day, after much debate and argument, the rest of the group decides not to continue any higher but to relax at the base camp and then return down the mountain to meet up with the rest of the group. Some members of the group like Erik are disappointed that they couldn't reach the top of the summit.
However, the film shows the three remaining students playing on the ice of the mountain. It was amazing because many of them had never felt a world made entirely out of ice. For many people who are visually impaired, tactile stimulation is one of their strongest senses, and for these students to feel the ice, climb on it, and use ice picks to smash through it, you could tell that they were enjoying themselves. They were allowed to be kids which is what was most important about the trip.
Even though they never reached their summit, they still climbed higher than a majority of people in the world will ever climb which is still amazing. More importantly the students became a group that relied on one another to get up that high. Most importantly it showed that even though these students have a disability, they are still able to do as much, if not more, than everyone else.
My name is Andrew and I'm from a small town in the Thousand Islands. I'm currently going to SUNY Cortland studying Physical Education with a concentration in Adaptive P.E. I hope to become a teacher sometime soon, and I figured sharing this with family and friends would be a good way to show them what Physical Education really is all about.