Sara Bitter Uses Storytelling To Educate About Disabilities
Story written by GTGA Intern Katie Reinstatler.
“I wanted to create a film for more than just my own kid. I wanted to find a way to do it on a larger scale, to utilize storytelling so more people would connect with him, identify with him and root for him.”
This is the purpose and the passion behind Ethan the Brave, a short educational film on developmental disability driven by Sara Bitter, mother, and community educator on developmental disability, and created with the help of many, whose names will be mentioned later in this article. She has spent the start of every school year for the last several years teaching teachers, students, and fellow parents about Fragile X Syndrome, the syndrome with which her son lives. Fragile X Syndrome is a genetic condition that causes a variety of developmental problems, including learning disabilities and cognitive impairment. Males are more likely to be affected by this syndrome than females.
As the mother of a son living with developmental disability, her passion and drive in educating her community and the overall public about the ways that these disabilities affect those living with them, is evident. It is in the way she speaks about the work she does, how her movement suddenly becomes animated, and in the careful attention she pays to every detail. Sara is not only passionate about this work, and the film she has created, but she is absolutely committed to her work not only as the mother of a child living with developmental disability, but with the opportunities she has been afforded to be an educator to her community, to teachers, fellow parents, and students, who may not otherwise have access to such educational resources, if it weren’t for the film which Sara set out to create.
In speaking with her on why she wanted to do this, she told me, “I tried to focus on developmental disability because I feel like there’s not a lot of focus on it. I wanted to help students that aren’t getting a fair shake. That was my motivation in all of this, was the kids. So I really wanted Ethan to be a composite character of all these different people, to represent a wide variety of disabilities.”
Ethan the Brave came to Sara one afternoon. She sat at her kitchen table and spent an hour working on the story. Immediately, she knew she had to make it something bigger, that this was something that could be a real tool in spreading awareness about disability in schools, and more specifically, developmental disability. In her quest to make this a reality, she partnered with Reelabilities, a local film festival that focuses on disability, and created both an education committee dedicated to educating the Cincinnati public, and the film. With their collaboration, Sara was able to partner with Thunder-Sky, an art studio in Cincinnati for unconventional artists, many of whom are disabled themselves, to create the film, which features stop motion painting, drawing etc. of Ethan’s life, while a young boy narrates his story.
This is Ethan the Brave, a short 10 minute video that lets the audience know kids with disabilities are really not that much different from kids who don’t have disabilities. Ethan can run, and swim, and feel all the same emotions as the other kids. When Sara described the way she framed the story, she mentioned how “I wanted it to be fun, positive, and uplifting. I didn’t want it to be negative at all.” Too often, it seems, people focus on what those with disabilities can’t do, not what they can. Ethan at one point even says, “I don’t want people to be afraid of me.” He is just like everyone else, and this is how he wants to be treated.
Ultimately, that is the goal of Ethan the Brave, and it accomplishes that goal. Sara’s tenacity, dedication, pride, and absolute passion and compassion in her work and what she has accomplished with this radiates outward to everyone around her. For her, the most rewarding thing is knowing or at least hoping that there is a kid in the classes that watch this that will benefit from this film and the support they receive as a result of it.
Side Note: Ethan the Brave was recently also published as a book. You can purchase it on Amazon.com.