Patti Hays

Learning about disabilities while Finding Dory

The new Pixar movie, Finding Dory, premiered this past weekend to a record-setting opening for an animated film.  I was eager to hear about the next adventure of that charming little blue fish and visit once again with her friends-both old and new.  Just as expected, the unique personalities and depth of each character brought the story to life.

Characters Hank, a traumatized seven limbed octopus (Septapus) and master escape artist in search of solitude, Bailey the beluga whale who can’t echolocate and Becky, a disoriented bird who cleverly employs a pail as a rescue device all become our new friends.  Destiny, the near sighted Whale Shark, as well as the returning Nemo the clownfish with one malformed but amazingly functional fin, remind us of our own individual challenges.  This flawed but uniquely functional cast exemplifies the message that “…you can do whatever you put your mind to”.

I went in expecting a simple movie but was met with a film that gives each of us the opportunity to not only share this beautiful film with our children but to also discuss disability.  At the beginning of the movie, we see the sweet and easily distracted Dory, identified as having “short term memory loss.”  We learn how her parents support her path to independence by providing love, encouragement and realistic assistive devices.  We see determination and hard work paired with inspirational peer support helping others to reach their goals.  My favorite life message in the movie is preparing the child for the path rather than the path for the child demonstrated by Dory providing inspiration to Nemo and others to “just keep swimming.”

Unfortunately, Becky is characterized as “dimwitted” and there are images of bullying by a couple of sea lions to a smaller and less adept pup.  The audience I sat with laughed at these depictions but I hope that parents will see the opportunity to explain to their children other ways of seeing those with cognitive disabilities rather than as the object of humor or derision.

Dory is told by her parents that the best things happen by chance, and perhaps this film is a chance for families to include discussion about everyone’s varying abilities in life.  At AWS Foundation, we envision a community in which people with enduring disabilities are engaged fully and meaningfully in all aspects of life.   Finding Dory reminds us that working together; communities of diversity and inclusion are the ones we want to live in. See the Finding Dory preview by clicking here.

Patti Hays, CEO

AWS Foundation