Netflix’s new documentary ‘Crip Camp’ takes a candid look at the US Civil Rights Movement that no one talks about. A Disability Revolution. [Orginally published by the author on 29th March 2020].

Would you like to see handicapped people depicted as people? Excuse me?

Right from the off ‘Crip Camp’ highlights the way many disabled people handle the issue at hand, with dry humour

Jim LeBrecht was born with a disability “that has nothing to do with his job”, and in jointly writing and directing ‘Crip Camp’ he provides a relatable, funny and eloquent view of a civil rights movement that has shaped life for disabled people in America today. (At the time of writing it has a score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes).


Camp Jened was where it began.

The first third of the documentary is liberally sprinkled with tales from fellow campers, as well as archive footage and photographs of that fateful summer.

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Life in Jened held no barriers for campers

Judy Heumann quickly emerges as a leading force, a voice for the collective whole, to let the world know that change was needed.

Even when we were that young, we knew that we were all being sidelined. We didn’t wanna sideline anybody.Judy talks about school, and how Camp Jened championed inclusion

When each of the campers talk about their home and school life, time and again they describe barriers and bigotry in a matter of fact, ‘that’s just how it was’ kind of way, that is at once shocking and entirely relatable on my part. I lost count the number of times a rye smile crept onto my face, I’d heard it before, lived some of it to varying extents. Fire hazard. Asexual. Downstairs kids. Specials Schools. Institutions. Trial Basis. Exclusion. Hierarchy of Disability. I don’t want to spoil too many of the stories for you, as they are best heard from the horse’s mouth.

The first year I was at camp, one of the women counsellors gave me a whole lesson on how to kiss. The was one of the best physical therapies I ever had.Neil Jacobson, Jened Camper and Disability Rights Campaigner

One of the most absorbing moments of the first half of the documentary is when the campers sit around a table to discuss certain aspects of living with disability and impairment, such as overprotective parents. How over protectiveness can stem from fear. And how important it is to be allowed space (of whatever type) to be alone, to think alone. I suddenly felt thankful to be reminded that I have both privacy and independence. As much as you can when still living with parents.

Life After Camp

If Camp Jened was representative of the social experimentation of the early ’70s, then life outside of it was representative of the intense stigma around disability, and lack of awareness even from within the disabled community about their own rights. Word needed to be spread, sparks ignited. Much like my own light bulb moment last year when I learnt about the Social Model (which incidentally began with the Disability Rights Movement in the UK in 1975), the foundations of campaigning in the US featured many a former Jened camper.

You don’t have anything to strive for if you don’t know it exists.Barriers faced were not just a personal issue to be tolerated, but a collective issue: the shared oppression of a minority group

In 1972 President Nixon vetoed The Rehabilitation Act which contained a section on access rights, while New York’s metro was built to serve the able-bodied masses. What did it matter about accessibility? “How many people would really benefit?”  The New York based group Disability In Action ramped up their campaigning (pun intended). Led by Judy Heumann, eighty activists staged this sit-in on Madison Avenue, stopping traffic. The following year section 504 was signed after much protest, but it was clearly not being enforced.

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Part 2

But what action did the former campers and their allies take to redress this imbalance? Part 2 will examine the legacy of the 504 Protest for disabled Americans today. The second half of ‘Crip Camp’ explains exactly why disability equality matters, even if you’re not disabled…

Want to take action? To find out more about our training delivery at Toucan Diversity check us out: Disability Equality Training & Disability Awareness Training

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