Nicole Newnham and James LeBrecht’s documentary Crip Camp follows the evolution of the Disability Rights Movement through archived footage and testimonials of the people who began it, many of whom, including LeBrecht, attended Camp Jened. A group of hippies created the camp so that people with disabilities were able to relax and socialize without the pressures of social stigma or separation resulting from their various conditions. As a result, the camp enabled individuals with disabilities to envision a world without the same constraints they had always experienced, leading many of them to become Civil Rights leaders in the outside world, hoping to re-shape it into a place where accessibility is seen as a given. They held sit-ins and even travelled to D.C. to get President Carter’s attention until eventually conditions began to improve.
Some of my favorite parts about this documentary were its narrative structure and its cast, some of whom I felt so attached to that I found myself in tears at the end when the former campers and counselors revisited a demolished Camp Jened. I didn’t expect to feel so empathetic, as individuals with disabilities are admittedly not often at the forefront of my mind, but the film has really helped me to see the importance of ensuring accessibility in all that I create. It also caused me to think more open-mindedly about certain prejudices I may have held subconsciously, especially during Denise and Neil (who live with Cerebral Palsy)’s interviews. I highly recommend watching Crip Camp if given the opportunity; it is full of heart and its story is just as important as it is uplifting.