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‘The Ride Ahead’: Father, son co-direct documentary on entering adulthood with a disability

Samuel Habib. (Source: LikeRightNow Films)

Watching the documentary “The Ride Ahead,” disability activist Christian Huber saw a lot of parallels between the challenges he’s navigated in life and those of Samuel Habib, the film’s protagonist.

Christian Huber, left, and Theo W. Braddy appear via Zoom during a panel discussion of “The Ride Ahead” before its screening at The Ware Center.

“It really chronicles the disability experience,” said Huber, a Millersville University student.

Samuel has epilepsy and other disabilities due to a rare neurodevelopmental disorder; he uses a wheelchair and a computerized assistive communication system, is liable to seizures and has a team of caregivers who assist him. “The Ride Ahead” follows his journey into early adulthood.

Eager to achieve his life goals, which include attending college, moving out of his parents’ house and dating, he visits and interviews a range of disabled mentors to solicit their advice.

“The Ride Ahead” premiered last month at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival. Co-directed by Samuel and his father, Dan Habib, it builds on their earlier short film, “My Disability Roadmap,” which won an Emmy in 2022.

Dan Habib

“The Ride Ahead” was shown recently during Millersville University’s “Disability Pride Day” as part of the university’s “On Screen | In Person” documentary series at The Ware Center. Afterward, Daniel Habib joined the Ware Center audience for a Q&A.

“We wanted this film to very much represent that Samuel is now the lead, not just of his life, but his own storytelling,” he said. It was Samuel who decided whom to interview and what questions to ask. He provides the voiceover narration through an assistive communication device.

He was determined to be open about all aspects of his life, including the difficult or uncomfortable parts, his father said.

That very much includes questions of sex and romance. Samuel quizzes several of his interviewees for advice on finding a girlfriend and how to be intimate.

One interview is with pioneering disability rights activist Judy Heumann, who died in March 2023. Samuel’s interview with her is one of the last she gave: “The world can be a better place, and you’re going to make a difference,” she told him.

In a discussion provided to the media, Samuel said, “This film is incredibly meaningful to me because it is making my experience visible and it is getting mine and others’ voices heard.”

He said he wants to help other disabled individuals learn how to live a full life in adulthood, providing the kind of guidance he receives from older mentors in the film.

Huber, the local student and activist, took part in a four-person panel discussion that preceded the screening. He said he loved the way Samuel lived life to the fullest.

Theo W. Braddy, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living, said the film showcases universal themes, while also foregrounding the challenges Samuel faces in navigating a world that’s not designed for him.

In one scene, an airline attendant repeatedly talks down to Samuel, despite repeated admonishment that he’s an adult. That resonated with Jacklyn Nagle, executive director of the Disability Empowerment Center in Lancaster.

Jacklyn Nagle discusses “The Ride Ahead” as Thomas Neuville listens. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

“Not a day goes by that I don’t get treated like I’m 2” years old, she said. Disability rights have come a long way, she said, but there’s a long way to go: “We all need you to fight that good fight,” she told the audience.

The fourth panelist was Thomas Neuville, a disability studies professor at Millersville University. He cautioned against taking the wrong message from Samuel’s pleasure in being with other disabled individuals and taking part in disability-themed conferences and special events.

“Gathering … is a great idea. Being gathered with a group based on similar experience is segregation,” he said.

Maysoon Zayid, a Palestinian-American comedian and disability advocate, was among Samuel’s interviewees and joined the post-screening Q&A via Zoom. Comedy “picked me” she said — she got into the field to entertain but realized you can use laughter to talk about uncomfortable topics.

She said her outspoken opposition to Israel’s military action in Gaza has resulted in numerous cancellations and safety threats, undermining her livelihood.
“It’s a really difficult time to be funny,” she said, “and yet I believe this is the most precious, most graceful, most beautiful time of my existence because the solidarity that I have seen through minority communities and across college campuses nationwide and worldwide — it gives me hope.”

She said she loves Samuel’s positivity. Dan Habib said his son is “the most positive and resilient person I’ve ever met.” Parenting him, he said, has made him more creative, patient and open.

“The Ride Ahead” is very intentionally a work of advocacy, and the challenges faced by disabled individuals have parallels to those of other marginalized groups, he said. Whether with regard to race, class, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, there are barriers that do not need to exist.

“We need to be constantly changing the world so it’s more universally designed,” he said.