Rahsaan Thomas said when he first approached James Geiger, he did so as if he were a charity case. Geiger was hosting a spoken word show at a local coffee shop, Sacred Grounds, and Thomas assumed he had a mental disorder — an entirely inaccurate judgment.
Geiger, a USF alumnus, said he struggles with these judgments on a daily basis due to his outward appearance.
However, the thing that made this encounter different is that Thomas said he realized his misjudgment — and wanted to do something about it. This was where the idea for a documentary on the issue originated.
Thomas and Geiger are working as co-producers on the documentary “I Am Not My Disability,” which will use Geiger’s life story to show how those with disabilities are frequently misjudged.
“(The documentary is) about how we judge people at face value, how we give people too much credit based on how they look or we don’t give them enough time to prove themselves before we judge them,” Thomas said. “The topic is very personal because I can relate to James’ story in a lot of ways. Though I don’t have a physical disability, I struggle with social disabilities.”
The goal of the film is to make viewers see the world from a different perspective, to make them aware of the issues of being judged at face value and also to allow viewers to be open to themselves and realize how they are being discriminated against.
Geiger is the central character, because throughout his life he has overcome many challenges.
He said his biological mother abused drugs and alcohol during her pregnancy. He was born nine weeks early weighing only one pound and two ounces. Geiger was pronounced dead at birth because of his underdeveloped lungs and organs, but was revived by doctors.
Due to the lack of oxygen to his brain between his birth and revival, Geiger’s speech and fine motor skills were unable to develop properly, one of the many forms cerebral palsy. He is otherwise a fully functioning human being.
“Some days I’m extremely depressed because it’s hard to be someone that’s trapped in a body that gets judged and stereotyped day in and day out,” Geiger said.
Geiger has a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in instructional technology. He was not a quiet student on campus and involved himself in as many activities as possible. He considered himself a game changer, and worked closely with the Students with Disabilities Services office. He even changed some policies on campus regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Geiger said he has always had a creative passion and has been making films since the seventh grade. He also runs his own photography business.
“I’m all for him working on this documentary,” Geiger’s adopted mother, Katy Geiger, said. “He’s extremely positive and has accomplished a lot with his challenges. Anything he does, it helps make other people aware that it’s okay to have challenges.”
Geiger and Thomas hope to have the entire documentary complete and ready to show by the end of this year.
They are currently reaching out for donations to help complete the project effectively. Geiger said the donations will go toward purchasing equipment and cover the cost of traveling to key locations in Geiger’s life to properly tell his story.
On Friday, Thomas and Geiger will hold a fundraiser for their documentary at The Market on Seventh Avenue in Ybor. The event will feature several local musicians such as Row Jomah, Small Monuments, Landon Morgan, Gia Sky, The Cruz Brothers, Conner Zwetsch, Dean Johanesen and Thomas himself. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door.
“We’re just going to have a great night with music, friends and raising money for this documentary that needs to be told,” Geiger said. “It was amazing when I contacted my favorite bands and I didn’t have anyone say no.”
Geiger has also organized a Hatchfund, a fundraising platform for artists, to receive donations to help fund the documentary. The donation goals rise in increments and they hope to raise $10,000 by Feb. 15.
Those who wish to donate can visit hatchfund.org/project/i_am_not_my_disability_documentary or follow their Facebook page, I Am Not My Disability.
Thomas and Geiger said they hope to make their dream of changing the way their viewers see disability a reality with this documentary.
“If you look at the word ‘disabled,’ ‘dis’ means not and ‘able’ is your ability to do things,” Geiger said. “I am differently abled. I am not dis-anything. I can do everything that anyone else can do I may have to do it differently, but give me a chance and I will find a way to do it.”