Great Films for the Disability Community

Crip Camp

This summer, a trip to the movies just isn’t an option. Fortunately, there’s a whole lot of streaming going on! Viewing possibilities are seemingly endless, and they include quite a few excellent films and TV shows about living with disabilities. “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution,” discussed in some detail below, is one of the best, but we’ve also included a list of newish films and programs you may not have heard of that address disability-related themes and/or feature actors with disabilities.

Check ratings to make sure these films and programs are appropriate for viewers of all ages.

Crip Camp:
Though most camps are closed this summer, you can still get that summer camp feeling by watching the newly released documentary, “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.” Available on Netflix, the film tells the amazing but little known story of Camp Jened, a groundbreaking camp for teens with disabilities that opened in 1951 and closed in 1977. Directed by former camper Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham, the documentary, is both moving and inspiring.

Nowadays, it’s relatively easy to find camps that can accommodate children with disabilities. But when Camp Jened opened, there were few camps like it. As explained on the Crip Camp website, “In the early 1970s, teenagers with disabilities faced a future shaped by isolation, discrimination and institutionalization. Camp Jened, a ramshackle camp ‘for the handicapped’ (a term no longer used) in the Catskills [Mountains in New York], exploded those confines. Jened was their freewheeling Utopia, a place with summertime sports, smoking and make-out sessions awaiting everyone, and campers experienced liberation and full inclusion as  human beings.”

Camp Jened also became a training ground for future disabilities activists.  In the late 1970s, many of Camp Jened’s former attendees moved to Berkeley, California, a “hotbed” of civil rights activism, where they joined the civil rights movement. Judy Heumann, a Camp Jened alumna who later became an appointee of presidents Clinton and Obama, was at the disabilities movement forefront.

“Crip Camp” follows former campers as they led the “504 Sit-in” which took place in the San Francisco Federal Building for 25 days in 1977. The civil rights protest was the longest sit-in in a federal building in history! The 150 protesters, who pushed on even without life-saving medical apparatus such as ventilators and catheters, demanded that regulations set out in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,  which prohibited discrimination against individuals with disabilities, be signed and enforced. On April 28, 1977, the protesters succeeded in forcing former United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph Califano to sign the regulations. Section 504 “helped pave the way” for the Americans with Disability Act of 1990.

“Crip Camp” won the Audience Award: U.S. Documentary at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Watch “Crip Camp” here.

“Able: A Series”  
“Able” addresses the need for inclusion in the entertainment industry. (Amazon Prime) Here’s a link to the trailer:

“The Society”
This science fiction show geared toward young adults features a deaf character played by deaf actor Sean Berdy. (Netflix) Watch it here.

“The Politician”
Produced by Ryan Murphy, this show about a teenager obsessed with becoming class president features a cast that includes a deaf actress and an actor with cerebral palsy. (Netflix) Watch it here.

“The Healing Power of Dude”
This series is about an 11-year-old boy with social anxiety disorder who takes his emotional support animal to school. His best friend has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. (Netflix) Watch it here.

“Music Within”
This film tells the true story of Richard Pimentel, a soldier who lost much of his hearing while fighting in Vietnam. Pimentel went on to become a disabilities activist who helped other disabled veterans. (Amazon Prime) Watch it here.