In the 1970s, disabled teenagers faced a world of social exclusion, isolation, even institutionalization. Camp Jened, the ramshackle summer camp run by hippies that is the heart of our documentary Crip Camp, exploded those confines. In its freewheeling, radical atmosphere of equity, a community was born, a community of campers of different disabilities and backgrounds, and their disabled and non-disabled counselors and staff.
It was a community that would endure until today, and transform not only the lives of those who were a part of it, but also the very world itself. “Jenedians”—including international disability rights icon Judith Heumann—became a critical part of the movement for disability rights that ultimately resulted in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) being signed 30 years ago.
We chose to center disability community and culture in our telling of this history, showing how the cultural practices developed at Camp Jened to achieve inclusion—like having the patience to listen, trusting others to be the experts on their own needs, and prioritizing accommodations like sign interpretation so that everyone can participate—became critical to the success of the 504 sit-in. This landmark event was the epic, 28-day takeover of a federal building in 1977, leading to the implementation of the housing, education and welfare 504 regulations that said that people with disabilities could not be discriminated against in any program receiving federal financial assistance.