James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham, co-directors of the acclaimed new documentary "Crip Camp," explain how the subject of their film, Camp Jened, inspired a generation of activists that directly led to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
JAMES LEBRECHT: I wanted to be part of the world but I didn't see anyone like me. I hear about a summer camp for the handicapped run by hippies. Somebody said you, probably will smoke dope with the counselors. And I'm like, sign me up!
KEVIN POLOWY: What drove the decision to use the word "crip" in the title? Because I think, in general, that's considered a derogatory term?
JAMES LEBRECHT: Not everybody likes this in the disabled community. But using the term "crip" is a way to try to reclaim the word "cripple." And for us, a lot of it is sometimes shorthand that if you kind of use that in your language, that you are politically aware, you identify culturally, like I do, as somebody with a disability.
Also, we wanted to make sure that the title really kind of had this indication that the film was not your standard kind of sentimental look at a handicap but that it was edge. There was something much more different going on.
NICOLE NEWNHAM: One of the wrongs we really wanted to write with this film was we wanted this story to take its rightful place in history. Most people don't even know that there has been a disability rights movement, to be honest, let alone they haven't they haven't heard of Judy Heumann, one of the great civil rights heroes of our time. They don't know that this change was brought by people with disabilities themselves.
KEVIN POLOWY: As the film traces the historical roots of this movement, I think you could say there are a few US presidents who don't come off particularly well in terms of their handlings or maybe possibly being passive or inactive on the push for disability rights, Nixon, Carter, Reagan. How would you rate the actions of President Obama as well as our current president?
JAMES LEBRECHT: I have to tell you that the Affordable Care Act was the first time that I was guaranteed health insurance. And as somebody with a disability, that was huge. And the current president is interested in rolling back the ACA and replacing it with something. But, you know, the arguments about pre-existing conditions and such, you know, it's a huge deal.
KEVIN POLOWY: Well, the film has been at Netflix for a few months now. What have been some of the favorite reactions you guys have gotten to the film, or maybe even the most surprising?
JAMES LEBRECHT: I'm kind of on Facebook a lot. And I've just seen some comments show up. And one of them was-- this person wrote, for the first time in my life, I feel know-able, which was really quite stunning for me.
NICOLE NEWNHAM: And it feels like there's sort of a global outpouring happiness to see the community represented the way it is. And then because people are able to join in to this virtual Crip Camp that we have going on all summer long, I think there's this feeling, not just of a film coming out, but of kind of like an ongoing movement.
- We are hopeful that the president will us. We have gotten a lot of support from organizations within the community who are paying our way to go to Washington. And we are really hopeful that we will come back with success regulation signed as we want them.
KEVIN POLOWY: This doc and also the camping experience through the doc starts out in 1971, I believe. It would be nearly two decades before the ADA will be passed in 1990. Jim, can you talk about those in-between years of activism in pushing to get reform and what that time was like for you?
JAMES LEBRECHT: Well, I started seeing the effects of the passage of the final four regulations when I was in my senior year in college at UC San Diego where, all of a, sudden I was starting to see ramps put in, and door handles changing, and more accessible bathrooms. Anyway, I really ignited the movement and was really responsible for the organizing and the movement that led to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
KEVIN POLOWY: What would you say are the major pressing issues facing the community right now? And what reforms or amendments would you like to see these days?
JAMES LEBRECHT: The unemployment percentage within the disabled community is very high. And there are just institutional parameters set up to make it very difficult for people to actually obtain a job. A lot of folks are dependent on social services, like health-care services. But if you earn too much money, you lose those services.
KEVIN POLOWY: What do you remember about the day that the ADA passed?
JAMES LEBRECHT: It was a very, very monumental day. You know, I think there was a sense of relief and tears.