DVD by Jamie Stobie, Producer/Director
Review by Ruth O. Bingham
University of Hawaii Manoa

“Technology can change our lives.”  
Freedom Machines chronicles the power of technology to transform lives, using the stories of people facing physical challenges.
The DVD focuses on those who are disabled, but its most powerful message is that we all live on the same continuum of accommodation. Whether we need contact lenses or a magnifying machine to see, orthopedic shoes, hip replacement surgery or a wheelchair to get around, a step stool or a prosthetic arm to reach, we all use technology to access our world, to compensate for the limitations of our bodies.
Freedom Machines addresses the high cost of supplying technology by pointing out the costs of not supplying it: of the circa 54 million people in the U.S. officially labeled as disabled, up to 70% are unemployed, and many are in nursing homes. ”Why pay $65,000 [per year] to keep a person in a nursing home, when $25,000 [for technology] will keep a person at home?” And why lose the talents, skills, and contributions of those whose bodies need assistance?
Freedom Machines spends much of its time arguing for equal access and for the importance of providing appropriate technology. The DVD presents its case eloquently and well, but it seems incredible that the case still needs to be made.
”Despite all the accommodations that are available today, people don’t know about them.... It’s important to educate yourself about your legal rights, such as your right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace, and the right of every child to receive a free and appropriate public education.”
Professionals – teachers, physicians, academic advisors, those who normally provide information – often do not know how to help, what is available, or where to refer students. Freedom Machines includes helpful reference sections such as Your Legal Rights, Technology for You, and Getting the Technology You Need.
Freedom Machines argues compellingly for “universal design” as a way to make our world accessible to everyone: ramps, wide doorways, and automatic doors are used as much by parents with strollers and older citizens with walkers as by those officially labeled as disabled. This section alone makes the DVD a valuable addition to schools of architecture, design, and engineering.
Freedom Machines itself provides an example of universal design. Information is delivered both visually and aurally, viewers can select English or Spanish text, talking menus, text with or without captions, and text with or without video description. Viewers can also navigate through remote control, keyboard arrows, or mouse. The DVD was a pleasure to use because it accommodated how I wanted to use it, instead of me having to accommodate to its limitations.
Freedom Machines provides less depth than written media, but also greater impact, which makes it an excellent basic training video, delivering information in an easy, compact format.
On first impression, Freedom Machines may seem more appropriate for a disability access office than for academic advising, but part of its message is that access is a universal issue and that for many students, academic success depends upon access.
Freedom Machines may help advisors become more aware of students’ needs, of the difficulty in getting appropriate assistance, and of what students can achieve when given the support they need. It may also fine tune advisors’ perceptions about academic success and make advisors more likely to ask students whether they are getting the accommodations they need.

Freedom Machines. (2005).DVD by Jamie Stobie, Producer/Director. Review by Ruth O. Bingham. San Francisco, CA: New Day Films; Richard Cox Productions. 0 pp. $290. DVD. www.freedommachines.com.
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