The review originally aired on March 26, 2020.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, a summer camp in the Catskills called Camp Jened operated for kids with disabilities. In the exceptional archival film footage from the early ‘70s in the documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, we see it’s not just another place that would babysit those kids.
Rather, it was a place where the kids were made to feel empowered, to feel they were a part of something, and that acknowledged their full humanity in a world that rarely did such a thing.
The early part of Crip Camp shows how important Camp Jened was to these kids, letting them speak and be heard, or not speak and not be heard, if they’d prefer. I have to admit I sadly hadn’t thought of some of what they’d experienced in their lives: One kid talks about the hierarchy within the community of disabled people, with those afflicted by polio at the top because they mostly looked normal. Another expresses the human need to be alone sometimes, and how the kids are constantly denied their right to privacy, at least outside of Camp Jened.
It seems trite to say, but still so many people don’t recognize that a person is not their disability. That said, some things have changed quite a lot, and this is where Crip Camp blossoms. What we see is that a number of the camp’s attendees went on to become leaders in the movement to gain more rights for people with disabilities, and in getting legislation passed that literally changed our physical world, making it more accessible for everyone.
What Crip Camp does so well is to trace that throughline from those formative years for the kids at the camp—learning about their individuality and their real power—and showing how it led to them engaging with that personal strength and using it to enact important, concrete, positive change… and, ultimately, how we all owe a major debt to Camp Jened.
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution is now streaming on Netflix.