The normally publicity-shy British actor Daniel Day-Lewis, who portrays Irish artist Christy Brown in the critically acclaimed film "My Left Foot," plans to be in Washington today to show his support for legislation to end discrimination against disabled people.
"The bill that we hope is going to be passed is dealing with problems at a fundamental level," said Day-Lewis whose awareness of problems of the disabled was heightened by his portrayal of Brown, who was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects muscular control. "It's the beginning."
Activists for the disabled have said that films like "My Left Foot" are not only exposing audiences to the disability experience but may, in fact, influence civil rights legislation intended to stop discrimination against the disabled.
Senate Bill S933, known as ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) has been described by one of its authors, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), as "the most important piece of legislation affecting people with disabilities ever to come out of Congress--the 20th-Century Emancipation Proclamation for people with disabilities." The bipartisan bill, which passed the Senate 76 to 8 in September and goes before the House of Representatives within the next few months, seeks to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, public accommodations, services provided by governments, telecommunications and transportation.
"The ultimate goal of ADA is really a consciousness raising, to ensure that the normal everyday person with a disability can have the same opportunities as normal everyday persons without disabilities," said Bobby Silverstein, an aide to Harkin and staff director and chief counsel of the subcommittee for disability policy. "It's saying you are entitled to be treated with dignity, respect and equal opportunity."
"My Left Foot" will be shown to an estimated 55 House and Senate members tonight, with speeches scheduled by disabled civil rights activists. Harvey Weinstein, chairman of Miramax, the film's U.S. distributor, said the screening is intended "to get legislators to pass the act. I think the film has the ability to touch them, and they're in a position to do something about it."
"If the film can play a part in helping people to . . . shift their way of perceiving the disabled community, then it's quite a remarkable thing," Day-Lewis said. "It's one of the ideals . . . about the power of films that is so rarely realized." The film, and Day-Lewis' performance as Brown, who taught himself to write and paint with his left foot, the only limb over which he could exercise control, won accolades from the disabled community for its authenticity and range.
"I think it's the first movie that truly shows the rage that disabled people have," said disabled activist Barbara Waxman. "The rage is not because of the disability but because of the social oppression and the control that non-disabled people tend to exercise over our lives."