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Crip Camp

“For 25 days in April 1977, a group of roughly 150 disability rights activists took over the fourth floor of a federal building in San Francisco. They would not leave, they said, until President Jimmy Carter’s administration agreed to implement a four-year-old law protecting the rights of people with disabilities.”

Contributing to this civil disobedience was the experience shared by campers and staff at Camp Jened – commonly called CRIP CAMP.

A Netflix documentary, “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution,” focuses on Camp Jened, located a few miles from Woodstock in upper New York State.  Beginning in 1971, it offered a temporary escape from the world of discrimination for kids and teens with a variety of disabilities from polio to cerebral palsy.


Up until Jened, such experiences were rarely available for those with disabilities and the camps that did exist were ableist.  Crip Camp was the first time a camp was run with the kids with disabilities in charge.  Previously, many young people with disabilities had been excluded from normal childhood experiences. They had been sheltered, sometimes thought a burden, and all too often disability had been their sole identity.  At Jened, disability was normal.  The camp changed that. As one young man says, ‘everybody has body issues here.” At the camp they swam, they dated and they talked.  The were able to act like all other kids. They were viewed, and viewed others, as people first not identified as their disability. The camp gave birth to a new civil rights movement, disability rights.


After years of pushing for federal civil rights protections for people with disabilities, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 included a little-noticed Section 504 noting “no qualified individual with a disability should, only by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  Binding regulations had not been signed by HEW Secretary Califano, newly appointed by President Carter. This had been a Carter campaign pledge.  Action was needed.


Inspired by Crip Camp and tired of waiting for their rights, in 1977 a protest based in the San Francisco area was mobilized.


The group staged a 25-day sit-in at the local offices of the Department of Health, Welfare and Education in San Francisco called the “504 Sit-In.”  This was a monumental effort supported by such unlikely allies as the Machinist Union and Black Panthers.  Complicated effort was necessary to ensure all were fed, could find some way to sleep, and could receive their medications and to find ways to keep some meds refrigerated.  During the occupation, hot water and outgoing phone contacts prohibited.  The group remained stalwart.  It was the longest occupation of a federal building.


A delegation, selected by the protestors with financial help from the Machinists Union, went to Washington to confront HEW Secretary Califano and President Carter. As a result, 504 was quietly signed and the civil rights of people with disabilities expanded.


The directors Nicole Newham and James LeBrecht, who was once a crip camper himself, use nearly 40-year-old film and photos and present-day interviews to show the genesis of this unique civil rights movement. The film, produced by Michelle and Barack Obama.



“Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist,” Judy Heumann with Kristine Joiner


USA Today, Detroit Free Press, March 28, 2020


The National Museum of American History


Atlas Obscura: “The 1977 Disability Rights Protest the Broke Records and Changed Laws,” Nov. 9, 2017