Listen 2 Us - Literacy, Self-Determination, and Interdependence for Nonspeakers


Upcoming Events!

March 2019

March 11-15

CSUN Conference-California

Film screening & Discussion; Presentation on College Transition

March 28-29

ARC of North Carolina

Film screening with Q&A; Keynote and breakout session

April 2019

April 9-11


Film screening with discussion; Presentation at a local school

April 15-19

Oberlin College

  • April 15--Screen DEEJ with community dialogue to follow
  • April 16--Getting a Job in Social Justice After College
  • April 17--Anthropology Talk about Self -Representation and Funding
  • April 18--College Panel on Accommodations in Higher Ed

April 25

Harford Community College, Bel Air, Maryland

2 Film screenings with Discussion

See Past Events



altDo you identify as nonspeaking? as nonverbal? both? or neither?

DJ:  I am nonspeaking. I am not nonverbal. In fact, I am highly verbal. I don’t use my body’s voice—my vocal chords—as my primary way of communicating. I think I will learn to talk, but I use other means to communicate because at this point it’s not easy for people to understand what I’m saying. I might look “dumb,” but I’m not. I’m just nonspeaking. Speech is assessed as not important by me because it uses a lot of my body, and I don’t have it all under control yet.  For now, I like to sign and to write my ideas. I am verbal. If I weren’t, I couldn’t be writing to you right now. I have a lot to say, and I use my written language to say it. I am verbal. I can message my ideas but not say them  out loud. I am verbal.

So why is it important for people to quit equating nonspeaking to nonverbal?
DJ:  Nonspeaking doesn’t mean I have no ideas or no way to communicate them. Nonspeaking doesn’t mean I can’t learn to read or write like everyone else. But I can’t if you don’t teach me how. And calling me nonverbal is like saying I can’t learn to read and write. Sometimes I look sandy, but I’m not. (Sandy is a word I use to describe when I meditate in my mind and lose my language.) Assume you are me and you sanely learn to read and write. Not nonverbal.

People use the verbal/nonverbal binary a lot, particularly when it comes to autistics. How is that
binary used?

DJ: I think people use it to desert hope for nonspeaking people. It’s part of the idea of a spectrum or of a weeding out classification. And it’s unjust because it’s segregating my people into classrooms of easy lessons.



Documenting Disability:  The Importance of Disability Expertise

  • Be sure to check out this amazing post about the contribution of disabled documentarians and filmmakers, including DJ Savarese.  "We need disabled filmmakers to propel the new documentary cinema forward, challending assumptions of disability by shedding light on the diversity of experiences people with disabilities encounter."  -Dr. Emily Beitiks

DJ Savarese Tells His Story in New Documentary 'Deej'

Deej Highlights Interdependence, Challenges Assumptions  The Oberlin College Review, October 6, 2017

ASAN Harriet McBryde Johnson Award for Non-Fiction 2018 - Gala speech by DJ Savarese

Deej, an America Reframed documentary film received a 2017 Peabody Award!

WXXI - Connections: Discussing the Reel Mind Theatre and Film Series

  • Evan Dawson at Rochester, NY--Excerpt from panel discussion:

Being nonspeaking does not mean you’re nonverbal or unable to read and write. It just means that the complex motoric orchestration needed to utter words from our bodies takes longer to master. In the meantime, we have just as much right as anyone else—and perhaps a more urgent need-- to learn to read and write.” --DJ Savarese

Holland Bloorview Kid's Rehabilitation Hospital Bloom Blog:

  • Excerpt from the interview: The film Deej upends what you think you know about disability

BLOOM: What advice would you give to parents of a child who can’t speak, especially if they have an intellectual disability?

DJ Savarese: Visit my website at Listen2Us, and keep visiting it all summer as I finish it. Ask yourself how you can possibly know your child has an intellectual disability if you aren’t able to understand what they know. Try all kinds of communication with them: photographs, words, AAC, sign language.
Read to them a lot and ask them questions using answer banks. New ideas keep us from getting locked in our old ones.

BLOOM: Do you think we can learn from people who have intellectual disabilities? Is there value to all kinds of neurodiversity?

DJ Savarese: There is value in every person, but I reject the term "intellectually disabled." It's a figment of the ableist's limited—and limiting—imagination.

Psychology Today“Fresh Thinking on Autism: The Documentary Film “Deej” Challenges Us All to Live Inclusion” by Jason Tougaw

At its core, Deej asks viewers to be their dear selves, to become fresh thinkers, to mold the world free. I asked him in an interview what advice he has for people who want to advocate full inclusion: “Interdependence is my model. Make sure all members of the community feel needed. We all need to feel loved and included—not just nonspeaking kids. Ask yourself why sad selves can’t get free from anxiety. Learning is not hard, but it requires a sense of commitment. It’s not always easy, but we all love being a necessary part of something bigger than ourselves, and when we are, the community—and each of us—is better for it.”

Deej Highlights Interdependence, Challenges Assumptions  The Oberlin College Review, October 6, 2017



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