Film Reviews

Access All Areas – Documentary Review

Disability often feels like one of the most overlooked areas of our lives. It’s estimated that 15% of the world’s population is currently disabled, and thanks to people living longer, new diseases ravaging the world, and survivability increasing, those numbers are likely to rise. More and more people are becoming disabled because we’re able to survive previously life-ending accidents and conditions that result in a person becoming disabled. Yet despite disability being so prevalent, it’s incredibly overlooked.

Every single person on the planet has the capacity to become disabled. You could wake up tomorrow disabled. All it takes is one bad day, and your life will change forever. Just getting older can lead to you becoming disabled. But it’s something that people just don’t think about; you don’t consider what your life would be like if it were to suddenly change like that. I didn’t before I became disabled.

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Access All Areas tells the story of Simon Sansome, a regular guy living in the Leicester area. We learn a little about Simon’s past, about him growing up and experiencing some difficulties with reading in school, and how he worked hard to overcome that. Later in life he ended up meeting the love of his life, Kate, via a dating app after she was drawn to his profile picture of his head on Captain Kirk’s body. After a whirlwind romance, the two of them were married, and were planning a new life together. But just a month into their marriage, as they were getting ready to go on their honeymoon, everything changed.

After visiting a chiropractor for a painful back injury, Simon was left in excruciating pain after hearing a loud crunching sound during the session. He was sent home, where his wife had to drive him due to him collapsing, and he believed that it was just pain from an intense session and decided to sleep it off. When he woke the next morning he had no feeling in his legs, and couldn’t move. Simon was paralysed from the waist down, and his life was forever altered.

In their own words, Simon and Kate tell the story of Simon’s long road to recovering from his injury; of learning that he would never walk again, and having to form a new life. After Simon is essentially fired from his job on false charges, he and Kate face the prospect of losing their home, and this sets Simon onto a new path, one where he learns to fight against disability discrimination. Over the years since, Simon has gone on to become one of the most celebrated disability activists in the UK, even having taken on Facebook in a globally reported on news story.

The words ‘inspiring’ often get thrown around when people talk about the disabled community. We get told that we’re inspiring for doing perfectly average things, that our existing whilst disabled is enough to ‘inspire’ others. It can be quite demeaning and insulting, so it’s with the utmost respect that I have to say Simon’s story is inspirational, but not because he’s disabled. Simon is a man who overcomes things, as the look into his past and him fighting against his dyslexia shows. He took his former employer to court after having charges of gross misconduct sprung upon him in an attempt to get rid of him (again, something which I have experienced and know how awful it is). But rather than accepting it, he fought against it.

Simon was facing another life shattering moment, something that could spell disaster for him and Kate, and rather than letting the fear and the worry stop him, he dove into action. That passion is seen again later in his story when his newly formed disability support group was removed from Facebook because, as one of their employees told him “Seeing disabled people on Facebook disturbs people”. Instead of letting it lie, he took the story to the press, which saw Facebook held to account across the globe. Simon is an inspiring person because of his passion, his sense of doing the right thing, and his drive to make the world a more just place, and that comes across in spades in this film.

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Perhaps the one aspect of the film that doesn’t quite work, however, are the moments of dramatisation. Simon and Kate are incredibly engaging when they’re telling their story, so when the film cuts to actors who look very little like them, recreating scenes that we’ve already had the two of them tell us about, it feels slightly out of place. It also doesn’t help that the story is set in Leicester (a place just a few minutes down the road from me), and the re-enactments are very clearly not Leicester. The fake Simon visits the University, and it looks nothing like it, and in one scene you can even see what looks like the sea in the background – and Leicester is very much not near the sea. It’s a small thing, and one that most people probably wouldn’t notice or care about, but as someone in the same area it did disengage me from the movie a couple of times. I would have found the film perfectly decent without these segments.

Simon Sansome is an incredibly interesting man, and the things he’s done with his life are worthy of notice and attention. More needs to be done for disability rights and awareness, from simple things like all shops and restaurants being made accessible (which most are not), to there being no marriage equality for disabled people. Simon is doing incredible work, and knowing his story makes me feel like there’s a chance that things could be getting better. And the fact that he’s such an amazing guy living close to me was pretty cool too.

Access All Areas will be available on digital download on all major platforms from 21st November.

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