People don't have to be perfect to have much to give to the world (which is lucky, since no one is perfect). Family Theater Productions' digital series Special Abilities: Living Fully With Down Syndrome, which launched Oct. 31 on YouTube, profiles two young adults sharing their energy and creativity with everyone they meet.
What Is Special Abilities About?
The series focuses on Kristin Ong, 32, who loves music, singing, fantasy costuming, reading, coloring and more; and Marc Williams, 19, who studies dance and participates in a Special Olympics basketball league (and loves pro wrestling ... and pasta).
Take a look:
The short-form series is the creation of Jay Cooney, a Digital Content Creator for FTP. I sat down with him to find out how Special Abilities came to be.
Where did the idea begin?
The idea for Special Abilities began a while ago. When I first met my wife, I met her brother, who has autism, and he is nonverbal. And through her family, I was introduced to the Family and Friends of Persons with Disabilities Ministry at my parish, St. Dominic, in Eagle Rock, in northeastern Los Angeles.
This ministry had been formed back in the '90s, with a group of parents who had children with a variety of disabilities, from autism to Down Syndrome to, some of them, I think we had some folks in wheelchairs. And so they started the ministry with Father Scanlan. And through that group, I met Kristin and Marc.
What's your goal with the series?
My goal with this show is to promote inclusion, particularly within the Catholic Church, but also just in our community, of people with disabilities.
Originally, it wasn't specifically about Down Syndrome, it was about general disabilities. But as it focused in on Down Syndrome, and particularly on Kristin and Marc, I really wanted to tell the story from their voice as much as possible.
It was a little more difficult with Marc because, though he is verbal, his speech is more difficult to discern. And so his mother was there to act as an interpreter. With Kristin, she can speak very clearly, and so she was able to articulate her feelings and her emotions in a way that I think many of us didn't expect when we first started talking to her.
Whose other stories did you gather?
It was also nice to hear from some of the supporting cast around them, the coaches and the instructors, the pastor at the parish. All of those people either are already inclusive of people with disabilities, or they're on the road to inclusion.
Particularly with pastor Father Peter [Rogers, O.P.], we had done a Mass for the Ministry with Disabilities for the show, and he was able to see firsthand how these members were able to serve in the Mass.
I know it moved his heart in a way that hopefully will build more inclusion in the parish and in the Mass.
What was a particular challenge in creating Special Abilities?
It was challenging in the idea of, how do we honestly show this in a way that does honor to her, but also doesn't try to sugarcoat it and make everything look happy?
So that was a challenge, not necessarily surprising, but it was something that we encountered as we were getting through the film.
I was also pleased to see how joyful the support networks for disabilities are, that a lot of these communities are working together, or they're willing to share information for each other. It's a very tight-knit group of people in the disability community and in the Down syndrome community.
How important was it for Kristin and Marc to tell their own stories?
Kristin put it perfectly. She says, "I just want to be treated like normal." And when I asked her what normal meant, though it took her a moment to recalculate and say what she thought normal meant, I already knew what she meant when she said it.
She wants to be treated like everyone else.
It's not putting someone on a pedestal or tearing them down, it's simply allowing their voice to come through in their own way and to highlight that, so others can see it. And I think that's the inclusion part, is just to give them that opportunity to speak, just like everybody else.
What do you hope viewers take away from the show?
I hope this inspires people to interact with members of their community with disabilities, particularly with people who have Down syndrome, and to give them maybe a little more attention than they may have in the past if they had been ignoring them.
And I also hope it inspires those who already give their care and time and attention to friends and family with disabilities, the sort of reassurance that they're on the right path and that those are worthy calls to service in our lives.
Ultimately, I hope that anybody watching this with a disability, and particularly with Down syndrome, feels inspired to share their own abilities and talents with our world because their creations are just as important as anyone else's.
New episodes of Special Abilities: Living Fully With Down Syndrome post every Tuesday until Christmas. Click here for the YouTube playlist. Learn more at the official website, specialabilitiesseries.com.
Image: Family Theater Productions
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Content Manager at Family Theater Productions.