January 10, 2002
YAI/National Institute for People
with Disabilities Urges Nation-Wide Discussion of Rights of People With
Special Needs to Accompany Release Of 'I Am Sam'
Seeks to Educate American Public on Rights of People With
Developmental Disabilities to Raise a Child and Government's Role in Funding
- Praising the new film "I Am Sam" for its positive portrayal of a
single-parent with mental retardation, Dr. Joel M. Levy, the CEO of YAI/National
Institute for People with Disabilities, called for adequate funding to
provide resources to support parents with special needs across the country.
"The movie addresses the very delicate balance between the rights of people
with developmental disabilities to have and raise a child and society's
obligation to ensure the well-being of that child," Dr. Levy said. "Sean
Penn's portrayal as a single-parent with a developmental disability,
reflects the depth of human emotion that we all experience. We're hopeful
that Mr. Penn's performance and the entire film will help educate the
American public about people with disabilities and what we as a society can
do to better assist people who are mentally retarded."
"I Am Sam," starring Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer, is the compelling story of
a father with a developmental disability raising his young daughter with the
help of group friends, some of whom are played by actors with developmental
disabilities. His life is shattered when authorities try to take his child
away from him.
Through its Parents with Special Needs Program, YAI is one of the few
organizations in the nation providing supports to parents with disabilities
raising children. Because of inadequate funding, these kinds of programs are
rarely available in most states.
"What we have found is that if a parent with special needs has strong
supports, they are able to raise the child and provide a quality life," Dr.
Levy said. "A lot of families have people in their lives, sometimes it's a
case manager, a social worker or a family member, telling them what to do.
We help our parents with special needs identify areas where they need
One out of every ten families in the United States is directly affected by
mental retardation, the most common form of a developmental disability. In
50 percent of all cases of mental retardation there is no known cause. About
85 percent of the people with this condition fall within the mild range.
"To this day mental retardation carries a painful stigma," Dr. Levy said.
"What's so refreshing about 'I Am Sam' is that Penn's character shares the
same emotions -- hopes, fears, frustration and success -- as any other
parent who does not have a disability. It really is an important step for
Hollywood to focus on a person with a disability trying to deal with the
day-to-day hardships and joys of daily life.
"Our parents with special needs who saw the film," Dr. Levy continued,
"enjoyed it not just because it portrayed their lives, but for the same
reason that I did. It was entertaining and uplifting while also realistic."
Founded in 1957, YAI/National Institute for People with Disabilities is a
not-for-profit, health and human services organization, serving people with
developmental and learning disabilities and their families throughout the
New York metropolitan area. Among its more than 300 community-based programs
are: counseling, crisis intervention, early-intervention and pre-schools,
employment training and placement, home health care, medical care,
residential services, and recreation. YAI provides state-of-the art training
for agencies, families and individuals with disabilities.
YAI's Parents with Special Needs program is in its 10th year. It provides
support for mothers and fathers who have a developmental and/or learning
disability and need guidance to help foster a more positive rewarding family
For further information, please contact Lynn Berman of YAI/National
Institute for People with Disabilities, +1-212-273-6199.