In our introduction article, In Praise of Documentaries, we noted that documentaries can take you to another place in time. In Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, we are transported back in time before the Americans with Disabilities Act. We are transported back to a time when disabled people were just escaping the horrors of places like those included in the 1972 Geraldo Rivera documentary Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace (a great documentary on its own, well worth watching). We are transported back to a time where differently-abled individuals were kept physically separate from society and not given the opportunities to participate in the normal leisure activities other Americans were afforded. Some of these individuals were kept at home, while others were sent to institutions. However, once a year, a group of teenagers were able to go to Camp Jened and participate in sports, crafts, and camaraderie. A number of those teenagers became young adults who stayed in touch to protest demanding equal rights, eventually leading to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
This documentary is not just about summer camp like the name suggests. The wonder of Camp Jened is that it fostered in its campers an undeniable desire for equality. The friendships formed at camp continued as these young people became activists.
Not unlike the 1960s and 1970s, the United States today is experiencing a resurgence in civil rights activism. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “No one is free until we are all free.” A number of this year’s documentaries under consideration for the Academy Awards feature civil rights issues. Each is a reminder that if we are not careful, denial of civil rights can spread right here until it affects each one of us. It is a reminder that the constitution was not written for many people; white male landowners were at first the only individuals protected and allowed to vote in this country. And while it seems the ADA must have been passed a long time ago, since 1990 when it was passed there are still issues over accessibility, including at polling locations.
President and Mrs. Obama are executive producers of Crip Camp. The documentary is well crafted, with lots of historical footage of both Camp Jened and the 28-day sit-in at the San Francisco office of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1977. The documentary will help you see the world through a different point of view, specifically from what it is like to be in a wheelchair or have a disability where you have to ask for permission for basic rights.
We encourage you to watch the documentary Crip Camp and share the trailer with your friends (you can find it on our Facebook page here). As you move easily, able-bodied, throughout your daily life, anticipate challenges others might have in accessing the same things you are able to do. Speak with business owners if you notice their locations need some accessibility improvements. Speak out if polling locations have ramps that need repair or are too steep. Don’t let your own biases be the thing limiting differently-abled individuals from achieving equality.