On the Same Page "Crip Camp" Essay Submissions

September 14, 2023

Tabasom Barkzai

Crip Camp, a 2021 documentary by Nicole Newnham and James LeBrecht, was honestly the first kind of film I have watched that had a raw, honest energy without even trying. It’s an interview style documentary that begins with introducing Camp Jened, a camp for disabled teenagers that ran just like every other summer camp in New York. Towards the beginning of the film, I realized how much I as a non-disabled person take for granted. For example, being able to wash up by myself is a privilege that I don't even think twice about. Then I felt almost ignorant for viewing it in my eyes, and I realized this film isn't entirely meant to make non-disabled folk be "grateful". Rather it's a film that showcases the truest perception of youth, community and how crucial it is to have access to a community of people that represent you and your values at a young age. It showcases the struggles that people with disabilities faced before laws that protected them were made and enforced, laws that simply gave them an equal footing in the world that has given them anything but. In a particular scene, towards the end where disabled activists who use wheelchairs fought their way up the Capitol steps in D.C showcasing just how difficult it is to live when the world isn't made with you in mind. I feel that these kinds of films that portray raw and genuine experiences are important for any person to watch, so they can open their eyes a little wider and see the importance of community and having trusted ones, but also the importance of equal footing and how there must be change so that one day everyone can start the race of life equally.

Susana Diaz-Francisco

“I don’t think I felt, really, ashamed about my disability. What I felt more was exclusion.” These few words said by Judy Heumann, expose how society collectively views disabled individuals: with stigma and stereotypes. As able-bodied individuals, we often do not see the other side of the spectrum and complain about things others find unimaginable. Through the 2021 documentary Crip Camp by Newnham & LeBrecht, we witness the everyday lives of disabled teenagers, and our perception of the world changes as we see them being denied basic human rights. Every day they face barriers because of accusations like being a “fire hazard”. This systemic division, which places disabled individuals at a disadvantage, has been embedded in our system. It restricts their access to proper education and proper healthcare. Nevertheless, disabled individuals have learned to turn what society might view as a weakness into a strength.

At camp, the teenagers felt safe, included, and normal; everybody had something going on with their bodies. They were the popular kids at camp – they were with people they could relate to, camp felt like home. However, the further they got from camp, ableism appeared—whether in their neighborhoods or at school. As Larry Allison stated, “We realized the problem did not exist with people with disabilities. The problem existed with people that didn’t have disabilities.” We have labeled specific individuals as outcasts through stigma to the extent that they do not feel comfortable in their neighborhood and that they are the only one or one of the few disabled people they know. Camp Jened offered them a new perspective on the life they could have. These teenagers wanted to take the utopia and ease they felt at camp back home–so they began the disability rights movement. A movement that would change their lives forever.

Nerissa Liu

All people should watch the documentary Crip Camp because it offers a chance to hear and learn about the lives of people with disabilities. The documentary starts with introducing Camp Jened, a camp for teens and young adults with a wide range of disabilities who came together and developed lasting friendships. Their experiences such as first love, playing games, and solving problems documented on film and recordings allow audiences to realize they have a lot in common with disabled people. with disabled people. Unfortunately, it is more common for modern people to hide their biases towards people who look and live differently from them. When able-privileged audiences connect their lives with those of the campers, they remove the perceived division between themselves and the disabled.

Later, during demonstrations for civil rights, the campers continue their camaraderie and branch out to more disabled people to grow their movement. While their actions were not immediately successful, they ended up getting legislation passed and later, gained government support to enforce it. Modern disabled youth can use what was done in the past as a source of inspiration to continue the movement.

The entire film showcases how people with disabilities possess the same needs as all others. While ableism continues to exist in society, it is more important than ever to see our shared humanity and to view everyone, as an opportunity to increase society’s wealth of knowledge and resilience.

Jake Lee

In the world of saturated documentaries, there are only a few documentaries that not only enriches our knowledge, but also resonates within our heart. Crip Camp is undeniably such a documentary. A film that changes our understanding of empathy, inclusion, and pursuit of disability equality. The quote of the counselor “problem is not of disabled, but it is our problem” allows us to reflect how we talk and treat the social minorities in an exclusive and discriminatory way. In American media, disabled people rarely get any spotlight– the interviews allow an opportunity to voice out their disability rights and unheard story. The film traces how Camp Jened became a powerhouse for flourishing disability rights.

What sets Crip Camp apart is its unfiltered portrayal of life at the camp. By presenting authentic, unedited footage, the documentary creates an immersive experience, allowing the audience to connect with individuals of diverse disabilities on a personal level. Crip Camp serves as a captivating reminder that individuals with disabilities are no different from us. They engage in love, cultivate friendships, and collaborate during their camp. This narrative blurs the conventional line separating what's considered "normal" versus "different" concerning physical attributes. It indirectly underscores that individuals with disabilities should be treated the same and given the same opportunities and respect.

Nicholas Martinez

In the documentary Crip Camp, you are able to see exactly how one small community, sharing one thing in common, made a world of difference for the largest minority group in America. Camp Jened formed the basis of this, where teens suffering from disabilities were able to come together and live like “actual” teens, amongst disabled counselors and supporters of disabled people who were able to give an experience they had wished for as teens, as they suffered from exclusion. This included intimate relationships, partying, and playing sports. After Camp Jened, life resumed back to normal, as James Lebrecht states “At camp Jened I felt like I was in a different world, I was popular and had a girlfriend. But when I went home it wasn't the same.” From this arose a question, why? Camp counselor Judy Heumann had an answer for this, and that was because they were different, not within how they looked or got around, but within the way the environment accommodated them, as barriers blocked them from being able to do what “normal” people do. And so, Judy Huemann got heavily involved with the Center for Independent Living (CIL) in our very own Berkeley! And with her Camp Jeneders and supporters from all over, sought and demanded change. Through events like the 504 sit-in. Where disabled people completely took over the San Francisco Federal Building for 25 days. These demanding events led by Judy Huemann led to the signing and enforcement of section 504, making complete accommodations for disabled people mandatory within public places. Take Berkeley for example! As through ADA compliance, all buildings must be fully accessible to disabled people, meaning there must be elevators, door openers, ramps, and accessible restrooms– diminishing the barrier that once stood between a community of millions.

JungHo Kim

"What do we want?", "Civil rights!" These two phrases mentioned in a documentary explain the story of Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution directed by Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht. Civil rights are given by birth, not by effort. However, disabled people exposed in the documentary were granted their rights with tremendous effort: the process of passing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The starting point of this movement was Camp Jened. The scene in which campers discuss their challenges, hopes, and internal emotions represents demanding reality. In contrast, the scene in which handicapped people express positive emotions toward the camp infers an ideal world they want. The world they want is not as great as heaven. It's just living like everyone else's life. Bringing the scene where campers discuss their challenges, hopes, and internal emotions, for example, they said they want to have their own time, privacy. It is natural for privacy to be protected, but overprotective parents made it almost impossible for some of the campers to ever be alone when they stay at home. To build the ideal world, many people like Judy Heumann put their every effort and energy in and Crip Camp vividly depicts this undertaking. For instance, disabled people protested at the HEW office for 28 days to urge the president to sign Section 504 which granted a law providing protection for people with disabilities. Likewise, the documentary Crip Camp reveals the shadows that have passed to create a bright world that has less segregation and more equity. The bright world is not perfect now for disabled people. They are still confronting obstacles. Therefore, people should work together to enhance the world so that disabled people won’t have to ask and respond again and again to "What do we want?". Watching this documentary and understanding their perspective can be the first step.

Gavin Eddy

Community is the blanket of society and social networks it possesses. Community is all around us and was shown countless times through the story of Disabled Rights Activism. One example of a community is shown in Crip Camp, by Newnham & LeBrecht, produced in 2021, a group of disabled campers who became activists for the Disabled Rights Movement in the 60s and 70s. These activists formed a community based on their personal experiences and handicaps, finding comfort within those around them. The community they found was not only people from the camp but also members from other activist communities standing up for them. When Disabled Rights Activists were lobbying for fairness, they spent countless consecutive days and nights to make a point. The people who provided blankets, bedding, meals, and everyday necessities included the Black Panthers and Lesbian groups joining in together. These activists have all struggled with discrimination and inequality but bonded together to form one. A personal example of the community feel campers felt was a story Lebrecht shared. Lebrecht was a camper who had to wear a diaper because he developed bladder issues and could not control his urine. At home, he felt alone and distant because of his disability and life problems, but when he got to camp, he realized everybody had issues just like him. This community formed from a summer camp and grew more significantly than they imagined. This community made their wildest dreams come true.

Asher Cohen

The lights were dimmed. The blinds were rolled down and closed. I was watching Crip Camp with my Berkeley classmates in my first ever college English class. As the movie ended, I slowly left the room. The world returned to normal. I tried processing everything I had seen. But nothing could help me understand the movie more than seeing a young woman in a wheelchair pass me by as soon as I left class. Only then did I realize how much the movie had affected me, why it was a film everyone deserved to watch.

Newnham & LeBrecht's 2021 documentary Crip Camp is a story about paradise, how paradise could exist on Earth. “A utopia,” a “funky” place “outside of this world,” full of “freedom, freedom, freedom.” But Crip Camp is even more so a story about how resistant our world is to paradise. How we insist on hierarchies. How we dismiss those who seek change as “illegal.” How we deprive the vulnerable of “what everybody wants: to be alone, to think alone.”

I’m sure the disabled audience member would agree, Crip Camp is a long time coming. It will force us all, I hope, to answer uncomfortable questions. Why hadn’t I taken note of this young disabled woman the myriad times I had seen her on campus? Why did I never sympathize? Why had her story never been told to me? After all, I decided to come to Berkeley for the same reasons as everyone else. Good name, good school, good networking. Why in high school was I never told there was so much more? Why wasn’t I told I was going to the place where paradise first became real?

Kelly Dozier

We, the people with disabilities, are humans with intrinsic and extrinsic values that also desire full autonomy and accessible access to the public and education. The Crip Camp documentary has affirmed that the legality I’ve used to defend myself and others with disabilities, such as the landmark legislative passing of the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, was possible due to the rigorous work and demands for a better quality of life that came from others in my community and our allies. The film also displayed people with disabilities' range of creativity to communicate when forced to be silent by using individuals with hearing impairments to send messages through nonverbal gestures - sign language. Additionally, the humanity to even be promiscuous and contracting STDs highlights individuals with disabilities also have a longing for connection and want to be desirable, accepted, and “normal” like the rest of society. It was like a right of passage. Overall the film is worth the watch for anyone, but especially for communities that usually don't associate themselves with people with disabilities, and reminds this Berkeley scholar with disabilities to keep fighting - Go Bears - Fiat Lux!

Niki Jacquin

I have never had the chance to know a handicapped person. The documentary Crip Camp is the perfect insight into both what it's like living and interacting with disabled people as well as understanding their own views on being impaired and dependent on others. I value my own independence greatly, as do they: “To be alone sometimes... Like, to think alone. And to be alone.” - Steve Hoffman, verbalizing the words of Nancy Rosenblum who suffers from cerebral palsy when asked about living with overprotective parents and her wish for independence. We see the handicapped as dependent, but dependency on others doesn’t exclude the fundamental rights to privacy, intimacy. The interview-style documentary grants every camper the opportunity to share their own truth. It leaves the viewer with an impression of a discussion, a more intimate personal insight to life with a handicap. The opening of the film portrays a world before the Amercians with Disabilities Act, an unknown and unthinkable day-to-day life for handicapped people, forbidden to go into shops, take the bus or even get married! Full of humor, self-deprecation and most importantly empathy, this heartwarming documentary offers a different outlook on living a life outside of the norm. A handicap is not presented as a burden, a setback or an anomaly, it is overlooked, disregarded as Crip Camp offers a safe space: an environment where being impaired is normal. I am incredibly moved by Judy Heumann’s determination, her resilience, her ability to mobilize crowds and her refusal to settle for anything less than she deserves. Her strength and willpower transcend the fight for handicapped rights, she conveys a strong message of fighting for your rights, the essential fuel of any social, cultural or political transformation. Crip Camp is the fulfillment of the American dream for those who were not allowed to dream.