“Crip Camp” Documentary Premieres at Sundance

“Crip Camp,” the Netflix documentary about a ‘70s summer camp for teenagers with disabilities, took the Sundance Film Festival by storm this past weekend. 

Camp Jened in upstate New York encapsulated a revolutionary spirit, much like neighboring Woodstock (1). But what was so revolutionary about it wasn’t just the hippie mindset of its patrons; it was the way the camp valued individuals with disabilities and empowered them to advocate for disability rights at home as well.

Teenagers with a wide range of disabilities, including cerebral palsy, polio, spina bifida, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and others, attended Camp Jened.

Camp Jened transformed the way that people with disabilities were accepted in society, because it gave them a place to live just like everyone else. It cultivated a fire for equality. Jim LeBrecht, born with spina bifida, attended Camp Jened and became a disability rights advocate. He is also the Emmy-winning documentary producer and director of “Crip Camp”(2).

Another primary subject of the film, Judith Heumann, attended the camp as a polio survivor, and later became an important disability rights activist. She led a 1977 sit-in for disability rights and successfully sued to become the first wheelchair-using teacher in New York (1). She also played a significant role in protests leading up to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which turns 30 this year (2).

The documentary recounts the story of many of the campers who became disability rights activists and made leaps and bounds in disability legislation following their time at Camp Jened.

“Crip Camp” shocked and amazed viewers, who weren’t aware of the difficulties people with disabilities went through in the ‘70s (2). More than that, they weren’t aware that many of these difficulties remain present in their lives today. Viewers approached Heumann after the screening with a familiar refrain: “We didn’t know.”

The film has been selected as part of Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, and is set to be available on Netflix in March.

To learn more about disability rights and activism in the ‘70s and beyond, visit our interactive Disability Rights Timeline.

Sources

  1. Coyle, J. (2020, January 25). Disability-rights movement takes spotlight at Sundance. Retrieved January 29, 2020, from https://apnews.com/998d08397761d8523c13b8568c4466e8?fbclid=IwAR0LcSXKe-sd0n4B5Q-KDWdu4qSnZXJ_HeT4gP5pen5w9XFYfwia9sr8e1M
  2. crip-camp. (n.d.). Retrieved January 29, 2020, from https://www.sundance.org/projects/crip-camp

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