Loyola University Maryland


Becoming Bulletproof

Becoming Bulletproof Reflection Guide

Prepared by Dr. Andrea Leary

“WE BELIEVE that the most important thing in the whole world to us human beings is friendship, community, and the knowledge that we matter to each other.” ~Zeno Mountain Farm


The ideal scenario for students is that they were able to attend One Question in the fall, and that this presentation provides a way to continue a conversation or increase awareness that may have begun last semester. If students did not attend, Becoming Bulletproof will ask students to reflect on themselves and their attitudes. Listening to the individuals who speak in the movie, those with disabilities and without, will no doubt provoke thought. Students may be reinforced in their current way of thinking or they might discover a new way of looking at the world—a world that A.J., one of the main characters, envisions:  “I want disability to be the norm.”

Our ultimate goal is to illustrate the similarities that exist between our neighbors with disabilities and those who do not have a physical or intellectual disability. An underlying question that drives this gathering is—would you like others to identify you by your abilities or your disabilities?


The history of people with disabilities in society has not been good. In fact, the very concept of them being “in society” as part of the community has been foreign until somewhat recently. My dad, who is nearly 80 now, had a sister whom he never met because she was placed in a facility upon birth. He only learned about Ann when his parents attended her funeral. She was six. People with disabilities have often been “viewed variously as menaces to society needing control, as children to be pitied and cared for, and as objects of charity” (Griffin, Peters and Smith 338). Many were sent to asylums and locked away; some were driven to the circus for employment. In Maryland, our last institution, the Rosewood Center, finally closed after a good deal of lobbying in June of 2009.

Americans with disabilities and their advocates began demanding civil rights around the 1960’s and 70’s; some students might be familiar with section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973), which states that “’No otherwise qualified person may be discriminated against in any program receiving federal funds’” (qtd. in Griffin, Peters and Smith 338). The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990; this Act “requires public institutions to provide access to people with disabilities” (Griffin, Peters and Smith 338).
We have come a long way from our past, for sure. But a lack of knowledge persists; sometimes myths do, too. Our presentation is meant to start or to continue a conversation about who our neighbors with disabilities are, what they do and want to do as members of our community, what sort of community we might envision, and how we might advocate or become involved.

Discussion starters

Because the students in my WR100 classes were asked to seek an audience for this event without seeing the movie first, I had to do a bit of preparatory work. I started our conversation with a writing activity.
Write down a list of things you are able to do.
Now write down a list of things you are not able to do.

    For this second prompt, some of students were a little bewildered, which was perfect. They aren’t often asked this and usually don’t think in these terms, yet these are often the     only terms by which we assess a person with a disability. I did give them a little help—can you ski? Can you speak fluently in another language? It really doesn’t matter what     you ask here, you just want to initiate this shift in perspective.

After about 10 minutes, I asked them with which list they would like others to identify them. Of course, they wanted to be identified by ability.
From here, I would start to delve into the film. Becoming Bulletproof is a documentary about the making of a movie, Bulletproof Jackson. Zeno Mountain Camp hosts a numbers of individuals with and without disabilities each year to act in a film. This film was their biggest endeavor to date, a Western, and the directors wanted it to be outstanding. “’It’s all about making an awesome movie,’” Will Halby, the co-founder of Zeno Mountain notes, in an interview with Joseph Kahn of the Boston Globe (“Unconventional film transcends its performers’ limitations”).

You might want to remind the students about some of the main characters:

A.J. speaks most often in the film. He plays the mayor in Bulletproof Jackson. A.J. has cerebral palsy and wants acting to be his career.

Jeremy plays Bulletproof Jackson (with his pie tin for protection in the gun fight). Jeremy has Williams Syndrome and plays the piano and the drums exceptionally well.

Zach plays Grimm and Gar, the lead “bad guys” (although we see him only as Grimm in Becoming Bulletproof). He has Down Syndrome and works at a children’s theater.

As we see in the film, each person with a disability is paired with a person without a disability. The documentary producers do a great job of interviewing the actors with disabilities, their parents, and actors without disabilities, and the directors.

This movie challenges our assumptions about what people with disabilities can do and what they hope for the future.

At this point, I’d stop and simply ask
What did you think of the movie? What, in particular, caught your eye? Or made you think?

Depending on the students, this could take you to the end of your class.

If you hear crickets, I’d offer A.J.’s comment
Late in the film, A.J. makes this comment: “When you see how much can be done with love, positivity, and understanding, it’s really hard to go back to the real world.” What is he talking about when he refers to the “real world”?
How does the “real world” view people with disabilities?

Next, I’d bring the students back in, asking,
What are your hopes for your future?
      independence, respect, family, productive work, a social life

What are our expectations of people with disabilities in our communities? What do you learn from the film about the hopes of people with disabilities?

Individuals with and without disabilities desire the same things.
• Independence (Judy and Zach live alone.)
• Respect (A.J. comments on this often; Vanessa also comments on this in the interview late in the film.)
• Family (Judy has a doll because, although she cannot raise a child, she would like one; everyone at the camp looks forward to being together because Zeno is a family)
• Productive work (acting—Zach is working with a children’s theater company; A.J. hopes to have a career in acting.)
• A social life (A.J. talks about wanting to go out. He would also like to go out on a date. Jeremy talks about wanting to be with people, about liking to chat, about how hard it is for him to make friends. There is a marriage proposal at camp, too.)
All human beings desire dignity, love, and understanding. (A.J.)

If you see people with disabilities represented by the media or in the arts, where are they?
Vanessa Halby (able-bodied actress) says, “our culture, our society doesn’t expect people with disabilities to share their talents.”
She notes that “we write them [people with disabilities] off.”

What are the expectations of the directors of Becoming Bulletproof? Do you have a sense that the actors with disabilities are treated differently—that the director is willing to accept less from them?

The goal is to make an “awesome movie,” Will Halby says. (qtd. in Kahn).


The director, Michael Barnett, says “we push these guys.” “We want to make to make a good film. We want this to be a positive experience.”

At one point, Will Halby talks about the qualities an actor needs to have. He talks specifically about Jeremy (who plays Bulletproof Jackson). He had to grow his ability as an actor. He worked his way up to playing Bulletproof.

Halby also talks about having high expectations: “When you did something you’ve never done, never thought you could, when expectations are raised and you take things seriously, then people get to live to their fullest potential.”

This approach has everything to do with attitude and expectation, rather than assumption.

So what difference does it make when you hear a person tell his or her own story as opposed to having that story told by someone else?

“How does the movie change your view about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities—what they want in life, what makes them happy?” (Kate McGuire, The Arc Baltimore)

Rachel Remen, in “Helping, Fixing, Serving,” talks about attitude—if our attitude toward service is one of helping or fixing, then the relationship we create is unequal. We can apply this here. If our attitude toward others is one of serving, then the relationships we create are based in equality—indicating an understanding that each person in the relationship has something to offer the other.

How can this movie help you to relate to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities differently, to talk with them differently, as equal and valuable, with talent?” (Kate McGuire, The Arc Baltimore)

What kind of world is A.J. asking you to envision?
 One where he feels worthwhile.
 A world where he feels like he can contribute.
 Where he is understood, loved, and treated with dignity.
 A world where “you just feel free to be 100% who you are.”

Quick Facts

The following list includes the facts that were handed out at the end of the evening attached to lollipops.

More than one billion people in the world live with some type of disability.
 "10 Facts on Disability." WHO.

People with disabilities have less access to health care services and therefore experience unmet healthcare needs. "Disability and Health." WHO

62% of people with disabilities feel like they are treated differently because of their disability. "Two Thirds . . .Figures Reveal." ITV News

Only 34.6% of people with any disability in the United States have been able to gain employment opportunities. Langtree, Ian. "Disability Statistics...."

The median salary of working age people with disabilities who worked full time in the U.S. is 39,300.  Langtree, Ian. "Disability Statistics...."

Claims for disability beneļ¬ts have climbed by more than 600% in some countries because of a lack of job opportunities.  Gaille, Brandon. "20 Amazing Disability Discrimination Statistics”

1 in 3 employers say that they do not hire people with disabilities because they cannot perform required job tasks. Gaille, Brandon. "20 Amazing Disability Discrimination Statistics”

About 1 in 4 people with a disability will face at least one incident of discrimination every day. Gaille, Brandon. "20 Amazing Disability Discrimination Statistics”

38%. That’s the percentage of people who believe that someone with a disability is a burden on society. Gaille, Brandon. "20 Amazing Disability Discrimination Statistics”

Two-thirds of people actively avoid people with disabilities because they are uncomfortable with the person and don’t know how to act around them.
Gaille, Brandon. "20 Amazing Disability Discrimination Statistics”

Do you want more information?

The resources below offer a variety of perspectives. If you would like to get involved, The Arc Baltimore has a Buddy program where you can volunteer to participate in fun activities with members of The Arc.
On campus, there are groups whose focus serves people with various types of abilities and disabilities. We have a Best Buddies group, which is similar to the Buddy program at The Arc. We have Action for Autism, Down Syndrome Leadership, and DSS, to name a few. Please feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions: aleary@loyola.edu.  Thank you so much for sending your students; this event would not have been successful without you and your encouragement.


The Arc Maryland http://thearcmd.org/
The Arc Baltimore https://www.thearcbaltimore.org/?doing_wp_cron=1443482416.3945820331573486328125
Griffin, Pat, Madeline L. Peters, and Robin M. Smith, “Ableism Curricular Design.” IN Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice 2nd edition. Ed by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell and Pat Griffin. NY: Routledge, 2007: 335-58.
 Written for teachers, this essay provides an historical perspective as well as a discussion of how to approach discussions involving disability and ableism.
Remen, Rachel. “Helping, Fixing, Serving.” http://www.uc.edu/content/dam/uc/honors/docs/communityengagement/HelpingFixingServing.pdf
Riley, Charles A. II. Disability and the Media: Prescriptions for Change [BOOK EXCERPT] in Everything’s an Argument 5th edition. Andrea A. Lunsford, John J. Ruszkiewicz, and Keith Walters, eds. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010.
 This piece examines how the media tends to make heroes out of people with disabilities as they “overcome” their struggles. This is not the way athletes with disabilities wish to be seen. The essay provides some practical tips on how people with disabilities wish to be treated.

The following is a blog entry submitted by one of our students after going to “One Question” in February 2015:  “Loyola University Student Kyle Gallagher Reflects on DD Awareness Event” https://www.thearcbaltimore.org/loyola-university-student-kyle-


Two students talking with eachother next to a laptop
Advising and Support

7 ways Loyola helps ease the transition to college

A Loyola student shares seven ways her first year was shaped by the people and programs that make the Loyola experience.

We are a green office logo