Inclusion Shouldn’t be a Lottery
Year Released
Film Length(s)
53 mins
Closed captioning available Audio description available
Remote video URL


DJ Savarese (“Deej”) is a nonspeaking young autistic who dreams of college and communicates via text-to-voice synthesizer, and here via documentary and poetry in collaboration with director Robert Rooy. Filmed in a one-of-a-kind partnership over six years, “Deej takes several masterful steps forward in inclusive filmmaking.” [Peabody Award jury, 2017]

Featured review

Deej refreshingly avoids the trap of speaking for a person with autism.... Deej enjoys remarkable access but avoids brash intrusion precisely by allowing Deej himself to dictate the terms of engagement, to explain scenes and events, and to determine what we should hear or see.... Ultimately, Deej takes several masterful steps forward in inclusive filmmaking, while using Savarese's poetry to offer an at-times soulful study of adolescence, leaving home, and becoming an adult. For this, America ReFramed: Deej receives a Peabody Award.
Peabody Award Jury


After spending his early years in foster care, without access to language, DJ Savarese (“Deej”) found not only a loving family but also a life in words, which he types on a text-to-voice synthesizer. As he dreams of college, he confronts the terrors of his past, society’s obstacles to inclusion and the often-paralyzing beauty of his own senses.

In this first-of-its-kind collaboration between a veteran filmmaker and a nonspeaking autistic, Robert Rooy and DJ share editorial control as they navigate the challenges of representing autism. Deej is a story told from the inside, not by parents or “experts”.

PLEASE NOTE: If you would like to license DVDs of both lengths of Deej, we offer the 2nd version for an additional $30.00. Please email to request a discount code.


Deej is the best film on autism I've ever seen. So much of DJ's experience resonates deeply with me; it feels authentic from start to finish. Deej is an important film for anyone who wants to understand autistic lives.
Brent White
Adult Transition Program Director, Ala Costa Centers, Berkeley, CA
Every time the world changes, someone has to go first. It's hard to go first. DJ knows this better than most. But Deej makes one thing very clear— he's going to bring all of us along with him.
Julia Bascom
Executive Director, Autistic Self Advocacy Network
...a breath of fresh air comes in foregrounding Deej, front and center, as the agent of his own story. Deej is highly recommended for both the K-12 and college levels." -- Cynthia Wu, University of Buffalo (SUNY) [3/1/2018]
School Library Journal
*** 3 1/2 stars *** "Deej offers a vivid insider's view of autism, as Deej describes how his senses sometimes overpower his functioning, the effort it takes to stay on track, and how his body acts silly when excited, fearful or anxious." -- T. Root. [2017]
Library Journal Review
Deej's poetry is animated in a flowing style of brushstrokes in motion that is very affecting. Although this inspiring documentary is about a person with a disability, it's really about the love of language... VERDICT: An inspiring story of triumph over adversity." -- Ann Brownson, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston [February, 2018]
SLJ DVD Review
Deej represents a giant leap forward in shifting public perception of nonspeaking Autistic people. The documentary brings to light the idea of presuming competence and how…that one thought can provide a bright future.
Ari Ne’eman
Co-founder, ASAN and Founder,
In my 40 years of research, teaching and advocacy in the field of autism, I've seen nothing to top it. Deej will do much to help others who...remain consigned to the margins of history.
Anne M. Donnellan
Ph.D. Professor Emerita, Universities of Wisconsin and San Diego
Every moment in a disability life is provisional, capricious, filled with ups and downs, and so, disability is also a model of what being richly alive is about. [Deej] is about life, real life, with all its fabrics, gropings, silences, shouts…
Stephen A. Kuusisto
Director, The Renée Crown University Honors Program, Syracuse University and author, Planet of the Blind
DJ cannot speak with his voice, and yet his words rise up in a powerful, poetic voice of advocacy…. Fierce hope fuels determination and poetry defies terror. We'll be able to help spread the word to a global audience...
Kirsten Haugen
Working Group Coordinator, The World ForumFoundation on Early Care and Education
Deej is a beautifully rendered testimony to the power of meaningful inclusion in education, and the tenacity and courage students with disabilities and their families demonstrate trying to access essential rights and participate as full members of the community.
Cheryl A. Theis
MA, Education Advocate DREDF (Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund)
…a brilliant, moving and innovative film— providing deep insight into DJ's experience and his 'quest for freedom' for all individuals with disabilities. Inspiring, thought-provoking…Deej is a film worth watching for anyone, including those of us who provide support for individuals with disabilities.
Eric Zigman
Executive Director, Golden Gate Regional Center San Francisco, CA
The AutCom motto, Social Justice For All Citizens with Autism, challenges our world to provide access to people with autism to all aspects of life. Deej seeks to overcome the negative stereotypes we seem to be bombarded with…
Donna Downing
President, Autism National Committee (AutCom)
Wow. Deej opens up the world of autism like nothing I've ever seen. What a joy to see it.
Louise Kennedy
Senior Producer, Arts Engagement, WBUR

Awards and Screenings

Broadcast on America ReFramed, World Channel, since release., 2017
Winner, Best Feature, Superfest Disability Film Festival, 2017
Winner, Best Documentary, Indigo Moon Film Festival, 2017
Winner, Best Feature, Chagrin Doc Fest, 2017
Winner, Audience Award, Newburyport Film Festival
Honoree, Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers, 2018
Honoree, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation's On Screen/In Person Documentary Film Tour, 2017

Director Commentary

When I first met DJ Savarese, I saw a passionate, earnest teenager bent on using alternative communication to realize the life he envisioned for himself and other nonspeaking people. His views on life and disability were more perceptive than those of many adults, and his fresh, poetic ways of describing them outshone those of almost anyone else I’d met. He burned with an inner fire to “find freedom” in his own life and to “break barriers” for others like him. The timing was right for a highly personal film to explore and celebrate neurodiversity. Together, we wrestled with the challenge not just of how to tell his story but who should tell it. We agreed to become full partners, sharing editorial control of the film. This dynamic, creative tension helped make Deej a much stronger, deeper film than either of us could make on our own.

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Audio Description
  • Closed Captioning
  • DVD Extras
  • Transcript
  • Resources for Educators

Subtitle/Caption Languages

  • English

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

Resources for Educators

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