Autism Media Lab (Autism + Inclusion + Documentary Films)

Autism Media Lab (Autism + Inclusion + Documentary Films)

With substantial support from Ability Central, the UCLA Disability Inclusion Lab is hosting its inaugural lab called the Autism Media Lab focusing on breaking down communication barriers to inclusion.

People with autism who are non-speaking, minimally-speaking or unreliably-speaking face barriers to inclusion in education, employment, health care, community safety, places of worship, and the general community. The Autism Media Lab will explore these barriers through a unique fusion of the study of disability studies and documentary film. This cutting-edge two-quarter class also features students learning directly from non- and minimally-speaking individuals with autism called Community Teachers.  This experiential course model ensures that discovery comes from immersion in both scholarship and the lived experiences of individuals facing barriers to inclusion.

The lab creates research teams/film crews comprised of undergraduate students partnered with the Community Teachers.  They will be guided by faculty from both UCLA Disability Studies and Film Departments and a graduate student TA.   The ultimate outcome of the course will be six collaboratively created short documentary films, each exploring communication barriers in various community settings with a goal of identifying pathways to inclusion for the viewer.

During winter quarter, students will explore issues related to autism and inclusion as well as documentary filmmaking.  The Disability Studies course material will focus on the history and perspectives of autistic self-advocacy and neurodiversity, barriers to inclusion in various community settings, and shifting views and media portrayals of autism.  The film course material will focus on the technical, artistic and ethical aspects of documentary filmmaking, and will be fully tailored to the production of creative documentary shorts.  The students, working with their Community Teachers, will develop the ideas about the films they will be making.

In spring quarter, the crews will film their documentaries in various community locations.  They will then edit their films using the tools learned during winter quarter.  Late in spring quarter, the films will be premiered on the UCLA campus before a wide audience with student assisting in planning the event.

Judy Mark portrait

Judy Mark, Instructor

Judy Mark is currently a UCLA Disability Studies faculty member and teaches undergraduate courses on autism and neurodiversity. Judy received her B.A. in Communications Studies from UCLA and her M.A. in Public Policy from the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.  She is the founder and President of Disability Voices United, a statewide advocacy organization fighting for the rights of individuals with developmental disabilities. She helped lead the successful effort to enact California’s self-determination law and advocates for inclusion in education, employment, and community life. She has spoken extensively throughout California and trained thousands of individuals and families about disability rights issues. Judy’s past professional experience includes over 30 years with national policy organizations, most extensively focusing on immigrant and refugee rights. Judy lives in LA with her husband and 22-year old son with autism, and visits her 19-year old daughter often in New York at Barnard College at Columbia University.

Sjoerd Oostrik portrait

Sjoerd Oostrik, Instructor

Sjoerd Oostrik is a Dutch documentary filmmaker based between Los Angeles and Amsterdam. Sjoerd received his MA in history at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen before moving on to study Documentary Directing at the Dutch Film Academy in Amsterdam. With his graduation film ‘Destiny’ he won the Wildcard Award of the Dutch Film Fund for the most promising graduating documentary director. He directed several short- and medium length documentaries that screened at internationally renowned festivals like Locarno Film Festival, IDFA, FESPACO, Sao Paulo ISFF and Dokfest München. In 2014 he won the Media Fund Prize at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) for his latest project ‘A Quiet Place’.

In addition to his work as a director, Sjoerd is an adjunct assistant professor in documentary filmmaking at UCLA, a grant advisor for the Dutch Media Fund, and a guest lecturer at the Dutch Film Academy in Amsterdam.

Jingqiu Guan portrait

Jingqui Guan, Teaching Assistant

Jingqiu Guan grew up in Chengdu, China, where her love for dance was first ignited through the study of Chinese folk and classical dance. Her later exposure to modern dance and ballet allowed her to discover that dancing had become her way of life.  Currently, Jingqiu is pursuing a doctoral degree in Culture and Performance at the Department of World Arts and Culture/Dance at UCLA. Her research explores the development of dance film in China and how these works engage with China’s social and cultural transformation in the recent three decades. Her dance film works have appeared in a number of screendance festivals in the US, China, Hong Kong and Scotland. Jingqiu has also earned a BA in Economics and French from Saint Mary’s College, a Master’s Degree in International Education Policy from Harvard University and an MFA in Dance Performance from the University of Iowa.

Dillan Barmache portrait

Dillan Barmache, Community Teacher

Dillan Barmache is an 18-year-old young man who just began his Freshman year at California Lutheran University as a student and member of the cross country team. Eight years ago, Dillan learned to communicate his thoughts and ideas by pointing to letters on a letterboard, which changed his life and the trajectory of his education.  He has his sights set on a degree in psychology, with a goal of working to change how nonspeaking autistic students are educated.  Dillan has a blog,, and has been featured in TV ads for Autism Acceptance Month sponsored by Apple iPad.

Anna Elazar portrait

Anna Elazar, Community Teacher

Anna Elazar, 20, had always been relegated to segregated special ed classes, as the so-called experts in school did not presume her competence — and did what we learn in kindergarten not to do: Judge a book by its cover.  Anna is cognizant and aware of everything around her, as those close to her would learn.  One day, her mom went to pick Anna up from school and lost her keys there. She was frantically looking around the classroom.  Anna showed her mom the typing device she was using back then with a communication partner. She had written, “The keys are just in the car.” Her mom, wide-eyed, ran to the car and sure enough, she had locked her keys inside. There was no more skepticism from her parents about Anna’s typing.  Unfortunately, she still finds herself having to prove that to the world, especially because FC has been so maligned.  Fast forward ten years. Anna loves to read and write poetry, much like Deej, and has a knack for analyzing literature. She hopes to go to college after graduating from her vocational high school, and eventually to become a “self-advocate.” She also has peers who have similar talents and interests, and has written poetry in a team collaboration. She once quipped after such a session, “Maybe we can all form a traveling band of autistics!”

Neal Katz portrait

Neal Katz, Community Teacher

Neal Katz, 24 years old, works at the Shemesh Organic Farms in Malibu, and at the Farms grocery store in Santa Monica. Neal sees himself as an ‘emissary’ for disability. His journey is the subject of the book, Now I See the Moon, and he is a star of the HBO Emmy winning documentary, Autism: The Musical. Neal has presented at the United Nations for World Autism Awareness Day and on stage with Crosby, Stills and Nash at a “Light Up the Blues” event last year. Last summer Neal received the Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Leadership in Autism Award from the Autism Society of America. Neal is a multi modality communicator using sign language, supportive typing, Pro Loquo 2Go (an app on his iPhone ) and some spoken words to communicate.

Liam Kehler, Community Teacher

Liam Kehler is passionate about his love of Sesame Street, cooking, and being autistic. In his long-time blog “Days in the Life” (found at he shares his thoughts, experiences and understanding of the world as a proud autistic man. At 23, Liam has lived with supports in his own home he shares with his friend and autistic roommate for 3 years now. Fiercely committed to living an independent life, Liam enjoys working a few part time jobs in his local community, and gives back weekly at Meals on Wheels and caring for rescued animals. Having supported living services allows Liam to enjoy a rich full life, with an active and robust social schedule. He fits in time to spend with his family when he’s not busy with friends.

Sue Rubin portrait

Sue Rubin, Community Teacher

Sue Rubin started typing to communicate at age 13 after being previously labeled as a “low functioning” person with autism. When she began typing to talk, she began actively participating in general education and eventually graduated with honors. She went on to attend Whittier College and received a bachelor’s degree in Latin American History.  Sue is now a well known presenter, author, and activist. Sue has received many honors, including carrying the 1996 Olympic Torch in Los Angeles as a Community Hero, and awards from Cal-TASH, the Autism Society of America, the Supported Life Institute, and Vista Del Mar. Sue was the subject of two PBS Life and Times programs; has had two articles published in the L.A. Times; wrote chapters for the books Education for All: Critical Issues in the Education of Children and Youth with Disabilities; Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone, and Sharing Our Wisdom.  Sue was the subject and writer of the 2004 Academy Award-nominated “Autism is a World,” and was featured in “We Thought You’d Never Ask: Voices of People with Autism.”

Gaby Valner portrait

Gaby Valner, Community Teacher

Gaby Valner is a 25-year-old young woman with atypical Rett syndrome.  She was diagnosed at 17-years old after being misdiagnosed with autism for many years.  She has become an advocate for girls with Rett syndrome.  Gaby has a blog called “Breaking out of My Cage,” about what it feels like to have Rett syndrome.  Gaby graduated with a high school diploma and has taken many online college classes.  She would like to see one person who has Rett go to college and will be starting at Santa Monica Community College in spring 2019.  She loves to ride horses and volunteers at a ranch. She hopes to be able to make Rett history and inspire girls with disabilities to be confident in their dreams.

Lara Atayde Major: Gender Studies
Jamie Azar Major: Gender Studies
Zahra Bandehyazdani Major: Anthropology
Kate Hadraba Davis Major: Music History
Pam Gwen Major: Psychology and Gender Studies
Julia Harnoy Major: Sociology
Megan Hodges Major: Psychology, Minors: Disability Studies and Psychology
Ayumi Kuriki Major: World Arts & Cultures/Dance
Jiamin Li Major: Anthropology
Yesenia Lopez Major: Chicana and Chicano Studies, Minors: Disability Studies and Education
Stephanie Martinez Major: Psychobiology
Alyssa Morgan Major: Linguistics and Psychology
Flynn Namala Major: Gender Studies
Amanda Nelson Major: Sociology
Hannah Nizinski Major: Business Economics
Kristal Orta Martinez Major: Neuroscience
Natasha Oviedo Major: History
Nacha Promsatian Major: Anthropology
Marie Rhoads Major: Neuroscience, Minor: Disability Studies
Austin Rietsch Major: Anthropology
Ruth Sack Major: Gender Studies
Stephanie Sanchez Major: Anthropology
Maya Shaitrit Major: Chemistry
Alexandra Shambayate Major: Human Biology and Society, Minor: Disability Studies
Sara Skerritt Major: English
Amy Vandyken Major: English
Events and Activities
The UCLA Autism Media Lab presents the red carpet premiere of

The UCLA Autism Media Lab presents the red carpet premiere of “Included in the Picture: A Series of Documentary Shorts Co-Created by UCLA Students, their Faculty, and Autistic Self-Advocate Community Teachers.” Thursday, May 30, 2019, 6:00pm. UCLA Schoenberg Hall

On May 30, 2019, the UCLA Autism Media Lab presented the Red Carpet Premiere of Included in the Picture: A Series of Documentary Shorts Co-Created by UCLA Students, their Faculty, and Autistic Self-Advocate Community Teachers. The screening took place at Schoenberg Hall and was followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers. The Autism Media Lab has a goal of exploring and breaking down barriers to inclusion for people with autism who are non- and minimally speaking. These short documentaries are co-produced by students and non- and minimally-speaking individuals with autism.

Click here for accessible program from the event

Click here for photos from the event

Autism Media Lab instructors, Judy Mark, Sjoerd Oostrik and Jingqiu Guan were invited to New York City to be a part of World Autism Day at the United Nations on April 2, 2019. The theme of the day was “leveraging the use of assistive technologies for persons with autism as a tool in removing the barriers to their full social, economic and political participation in society, and in promoting equality, equity and inclusion”.

Judy Mark, Autism Media Lab instructor, at the United Nations

Judy Mark, Autism Media Lab instructor, at the United Nations

UCLA students, faculty and staff and community guests come together for a public screening of Deej and Q&A with our Community Teachers. This event, held on October 8, 2018, coincided with UCLA Disability Awareness Week.

Picture of Dillan at a table with computer in front of him and communication partner to his right holding a mic

Dillan (left) and his communication partner

picture of audience members

Audience at Deej screening

On October 6, 2018 our Community Teachers and early-enrolled students into the Autism Media Lab course attended the Spectrum of Opportunity Conference at California Lutheran University.

picture of the 3 instructors with students in front of a sign reading “California Lutheran University, Autism and Communication Center

Autism Media Lab instructors and students

Short Documentaries

Documentary Tool Kits

Six short documentary films by the 2019 Autism Media Lab explore inclusion of people with autism in education, employment, friendship, public safety, health care, and religious communities.  Each film has a corresponding Tool Kit to guide conversations around each film and topic.  Click here to access the short documentaries.