“Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution” is a new Netflix film about Camp Jened, a summer camp for disabled teenagers that helped change the world. Until now, it’s been an untold story.
The film begins with in-depth introductions to a group of teens and their daily lives at camp in the Catskills. We watch intimate black-and-white archival footage shot in the early 1970’s by a New York alternative journalism collective called the People’s Video Theater. It captures a sense of immediacy as we watch camp experiences unfold. An African-American teenager from Alabama explains: “You might not be picked on a team back home, but at Jened, you had to go up to bat,” no matter your disability. We gradually come to realize the importance of Jened as a place where teenagers with disabilities could be themselves, without stereotypes and labels.
The film also shows how the camp’s free atmosphere bolstered self-confidence, encouraged friendships and created a sense of community empowerment. “How many people want lasagna? –raise your hand,” asks teenage camper Judy Heumann, taking charge even then. In 1977, Heumann led a 25-day San Francisco sit-in of people with disabilities to demand enforcement of a federal anti-discrimination law. She went on to become a national leader and powerful voice of the movement that ultimately led to the passage of the ADA.
And Heumann‘s not the only one. The film follows a number of campers who grew up using their Jened experiences to help them become effective disability rights activists. It turns out that simply being in a place where difference was normal profoundly changed the lives of everyone involved.
Crip Camp is an untold story of the disability rights movement that is heartwarming and inspiring to watch. It won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival; the executive producers are Michelle and Barack Obama. It premiered on March 25 on Netflix.