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In their new documentary Intelligent Lives, Chris Cooper and wife Marianne Leone show the world their fight for their son Jesse to attend public school. Jesse suffered from epilepsy and cerebral palsy.

Chris Cooper and Marianne Leone Cooper
Attribution: David Shankbone [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

The couple started their cause for children with special needs after fighting to get their son to attend public school. In 2005, Jesse died suddenly from a seizure. Before that, Jesse was studying in a public high school in Massachusetts where he became an honor student.

Cooper and Leone understand the effects of their son’s public school education on him and his classmates. The couple worked with special needs communities in Massachusetts. They eventually became involved in Dan Habib’s new documentary, Intelligent Lives.

The film is about three young adults with intellectual disabilities as they go to high school, college, and the workplace. The three encounter and overcome stereotypes and misconceptions about their condition along the way. Cooper serves as the film’s narrator and the couple is executive producers of the film.

Habib had considered book-ending his film about testing with Jesse’s story. Jesse was non-verbal and had quadriplegia, so he needed to be tested on a computer. Jesse scored in the 99th percentile, making him far smarter than most people, including his parents. 

The couple has been encouraging people whose families or friends have special needs to fight for proper inclusion. Had the couple listened to what their doctors told them about their son, he wouldn’t have been able to receive a proper education.

The couple knew that their son’s abilities and intelligence were there. They had wanted their son to improve and be challenged. 

Leone mentioned that while laws were already in place for inclusion, it was very difficult for them to get the laws enforced. Community works, grassroots organizing works, and presuming competence have been very important in working with people with a disability.

Their efforts have made a difference in many people’s lives, both those who have disabilities and the people around them. More people are understanding differently-abled people and differing abilities from interacting and socializing with people with disabilities.

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For those interested in this latest documentary from Chris Cooper, Intelligent Lives is currently on worldchannel.org, PBS.org, and PBS apps for Android, iOS, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TB, Chromecast, and Roku.

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