Documentary Review: Crip Camp

By: 
Ben Miles
In era of the Eisenhower presidency Camp Jened, aka “Crip Camp,” was founded near Woodstock, New York as a summer retreat for youngsters with disabilities ranging from polio to cerebral palsy to those with spina bifida, as well as a range of other physical distinctions. 
 
Under the supervision of budding flower children and upstart hippies this 107 minute Netflix original (produced by Barack and Michelle Obama) demonstrates for us the power in people organizing and focusing on a common goal.
Directed by Nicole Newnham with Jim LeBrecht (who was born with spina bifida, and who was an attendee at Crip Camp during his teen years), we as viewers are enriched by archival film footage captured by the journalism collective Peoples Video Theater during the first two years of the 1970s. 
 
We also witness the joyful camaraderie and acceptance that the camp participants are so in need of and so appreciative to receive. Clearly bonding knew no boundaries at this exceptional spot on earth; the human ability to fuss, to fight, to flirt and to share fun is on full display here. 
 
Though there was a stigma and hierarchy in place in at-large society regarding disability, with “polios” at the top tier and “CPs” at the bottom, at Crip Camp it didn’t matter. It was the era of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll and so-called disabilities didn’t stop these “campers” from going all out in that trio of indulgences. 
 
But it’s not just pot, rock and sexual liaisons, that defined the age, in which these teenagers indulged.  They also became conscious of and took a stand against the prejudices and injustices that they suffered. 
 
They became – under the vision and leadership of activist Judy Heumann (a teen camp participant herself and founder of the organization, Disabled in Action) – a driving force in the implementation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which mandated federally funded spaces including hospitals; schools; and libraries, be accessible and accommodating to all people, even though major alterations and construction would be required. 
 
Despite objections and resistance from both the Nixon and Carter administrations, through sit-ins, face-to-face confrontations with government officials and threats of arrest, Heumann and her cohorts persisted and by doing so changed the world for themselves and the world’s view those living with disabilities. 
 
Crip Camp is no longer in existence but its story is an inspirational account of human beings becoming organized and empowered by a common call for justice for all. 
“Crip Camp” is currently streaming on Netflix.
 
(Full disclosure “Crip Camp” editor Eileen Meyer is the writer’s niece.) 
 

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