Review: Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution

Playing a game at Camp Jened

Crip Camp is the first production I’ve seen from President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground. I was curious to see what kind of material they were interested in creating. This documentary is the story of the fight for disability rights.

Crip Camp begins in the 1970s at Camp Jened. This ramshackled camp in the Catskills was the site of a gathering of young, disabled kids from all around the country.

Campers in Crip Camp

There were cases of spina bifida, cerebral palsy, polio, accident victims, and much more among the campers. Many were in wheelchairs or on crutches. They struggled with communication and mobility.

They played, they smoked weed, they sang, they made out, they talked. Oh how they talked. And they bonded. For the first time they were in a place where they were viewed and accepted as people, not as a disability.

That bond stayed with them. It helped them spark a revolution.

The former campers became activists in a civil rights movement. They fought for enforcement of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law, which was on the books but not enforced, requires the needs of students with disabilities to be met as adequately as the needs of the non-disabled.

They rallied and protested and held sit-ins. They went to Washington D.C. They fought for the Americans with Disabilities Act. ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all places that are open to the public.

And they won. We take the evidence of their efforts for granted now because we are surrounded by it. Ramps, braille signs, curb cuts, close captions, lifts on buses, automatic doors, sign language interpreters at public gatherings. If you’re a web developer you know about alt text on images, semantic HTML, and so much more that is part of making an accessible web site.

Judith Heumann in Crip Camp

We get to know the people. Judith Heumann was a leader from the beginning. She was an organizer, a spokesperson, and often the voice of the movement.

James Lebrecht became a sound engineer as an adult and co-wrote and co-directed Crip Camp along with Nicole Newnham.

Many people share their stories about days in the camp and how they helped with protests and sit-ins later. Through this documentary, we get to know many people involved in this fight for equal rights. They’re smart and often funny. Their determination changed the world.

Poster for Crip Camp

Have a look at the trailer.

I recommend this inspiring film to everyone, especially my friends in the web development community.

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