Part One: “Ways to Move,” camera, Sandra Chandler; editor, Meri Weingarten; sound, Peter Hutchison; narrator, Victoria Ann-Lewis. Part Two: “Ready to Live,” producer-director-writer, Vicki Sufian; camera, Mark Stoddard, Mark Allan, Greg Berman, Ron Eveslage; editor, Pamela Scott Arnold; sound, John Murney, Mark Wilson, J.P. Whiteside, Frank Brown Jr., Don Miller; narrator, Len Maxwell. Part Three: “Redesigning the Human Machine,” producer-director-writer, Jan Legnitto; camera, Mark Allan, Rustin Thompson, Gino Bruno, Keith Kay, Sandra Chandler, Thom Wolf, Ron Eveslage; editor, Riva Freifeld; sound, Mark Wilson, Pat Craft, Charles Dixson, Sy Varnan, Greg Breazeale, Steve Jankowski, Don Miller; narrator , Anita Hollander.
Oakland-based dance company Axis performs intricate choreography even though its members are in wheelchairs. Nineteen-year-old Sarah Reinertsen competes with fellow above-the-knee amputees in the 100-meter dash. Bosnian soldier Luka Kristo, both hands destroyed by a grenade, tries out his new hands at a research facility outside Washington. These are among the participants in PBS’ three-hour miniseries about how science is providing the handicapped with a measure of bodily independence once thought impossible.
Emphasis in all three segments, as defined by director/writers Lyn Goldfarb, Vicki Sufian and Jan Legnitto’s probing, sympathetic scripts and camerawork, is less on finding cures for various afflictions, more on building bridges to allow the afflicted greater interaction with the whole-bodied society.
The first episode, “Ways to Move,” explores the achievements of crippled and wheelchair runners and dancers in creating their own philosophies of movement.
“Ready to Live” delves into the activists who work out new wheelchair designs and fight to make city streets and sidewalks accessible.
“Redesigning the Human Machine” presents ways in which space-age technology can afford the handicapped greater independence, though often at the cost of controversy.
Hosted by superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman, himself crippled by polio at age 4 and dependent on crutches or a wheelchair, the series is bathed in an aura of individual triumph and group activism.
Quadriplegic Ed Roberts (who died earlier this month) campaigned from his iron lung and breath-operated chair, founded the activist group “Rolling Quads,” and succeeded in persuading city governments to install curb cuts to facilitate street crossings.
California businessman Ed Tessier campaigned from his wheelchair and won big in a local primary.
UCLA medical student Angelica Carranza, once profoundly deaf, can pursue her career thanks to a cochlear implant that bypasses the ear and sends sound signals directly to the brain.
At times the euphoria is laid on somewhat thick, at the expense of the inevitable dark side.
Even the remarkable achievements in the field of ear implants has raised some controversy.
Spokesmen for the deaf assert that the new devices undermine the integrity and dignity of the handicapped and their impulse to learn the sign language most will still need.
And those of cynical bent might wonder by what lightning strike one Bosnian soldier has been singled out for a phenomenally expensive therapy that can only set him apart from the thousands of his wounded compatriots back home. Yet the achievements detailed in this well-researched chronicle are considerable; some, indeed, border on the miraculous.
And the miracle after all, well-put in the words of cochlear implant pioneer Dr. Robert Schindler, is nothing more than “a natural law that we have yet to discover.”