“Crip Camp” Review: A look into American disability rights in the 70s

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The Arc of California

Netflix's Crip Camp Poster

John Conlow, Opinions Editor

A summer camp for disabled people has created a one-of-a-kind bond between the guests. It encourages them to become an activist group that fights for their rights.

“Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution” is a new Netflix documentary that is hosted at Camp Jened in the Catskills of New York. Judith Heumann, James LeBrecht and others are optimistic youngins who come together to build real connections and feel acceptance within one another.

Directed by James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham, the film begins with the children all coming together to have fun for the summer. We eventually see them get to know one another, sit around in a circle and talk about life. For once, they felt welcomed by others.

“It was more free and opening than certainly what I was experiencing in my day-to-day life at home,” Heumann expresses about the camp. “I mean, in some way, even when we were that young, we knew that we were all being sidelined.”

With old footage from an aged camera, young men followed the kids around while they explored and entertained themselves. You can sense their emotions, and feel their joy and comfortability.

A tough discussion arises when the kids talk about their parents and how they are overprotective. Some explain their rocky relationships, even a kid who admits their parents are afraid to tell others that their child is handicapped. For a child to indicate that they don’t even feel respected by their parents speaks out to any viewer.

They only touched on the camp aspect for a short amount of time during the whole span of the film and it didn’t really have much of an effect. The camp is portrayed as a small focus, but you realize later it was important to the plot.

The middle of the film focuses on Heumann creating a revolution. Focusing on “504”, also known as the Rehabilitation Act created in 1973– it then became the Americans with Disabilities Act. She created an activist group, known as “Disabled in Action”, where their goal was to fight for disabled people to have their own access to certain things they currently don’t.

They attempted to change the law with different actions. A scene that catches everyone’s attention is the demonstration in New York City by the organization. They spoke not only for themselves but for everyone who has a disability. In the city with the biggest population in America, they aimed to reach out to everyone.

Heumann’s organization started to fight harder on the signing of “504” in 1977. They decided to go into the Department of Health, Education and Welfare building and try and talk to now former secretary Joseph Califano. The group created a stand to protest with and ends up even staying for a total of 28 days. Miraculously, Califano ends up signing the bill and they experience the thrill of victory.

“Crip Camp” is a feel-good film that could convince others who feel in the dark to rise and fight for what they believe is right. None of the disabled should be limited to certain activities if having the ability to do more.

Heumann was a leader with the qualities of a hero. Along with profiles of others involved, we see a passionate team come together to fight for what’s right.

Check out the trailer here: