‘The barriers were all over the place.’
Camp Jened started in the 1950s as a summer camp for disabled children in New York State. Kids and camp counsellors from all over the country came together to a place where there were no hierarchies; to experience a life of respect and independence that wasn’t afforded to them in the outside world.
This 2020 Netflix documentary takes archive footage of the camp from 1971-73 and follows the journey of some of the teens who were there as they went on to become civil rights activists, fighting for equality for everyone with disabilities. From exploring the impact on a child knowing they face a life of being side-lined to the realities of a sit-in protest in a federal building for 24 days while the FBI cut off phone lines and hot water.
‘I’m very tired of being thankful for accessible toilets.’
The protests began in the early 70s, ending when the Americans with Disabilities Act was finally signed into law in 1990. From shutting down Manhattan streets, sit-ins in San Francisco, and placards outside The White House, to scaling the steps of Capitol Hill – the fight took nearly two decades and involved many of the people who were at Camp Jened.
The viewer experiences the full range of emotions from joy, excitement, dejection, frustration, and anger as we see the activists’ journey from childhood to adulthood. Judy Heumann turns out to be the trailblazer who organises the protests and debates with political representatives.
The documentary proves to us the affirming power of human connection and collective action, how momentum can create true change when we work together.
‘The world always wants us dead.’
This quote chilled me – the harsh reality that so many people with disabilities faced in state institutions and in everyday life because of society’s poor treatment of this community. And it proves there is no better reason for everyone to understand what people have had to fight for. To stand against the feeling that you’re not wanted, to keep driving against a society that expects people to stay quiet – this documentary is the defining vision of the human spirit that we still need today.
It’s 2022, and there is still much to fight for.