“I had to fit into this world that wasn’t built for me” says one former camper at Camp Jened. For myself and many others in the disability community, this sentiment rings true at some point in our lives. Luckily for a large group of teenagers from the 1950s through the 1970s, there was a place built for them, called Camp Jened. Thanks to Executive Producers Barack and Michelle Obama, the documentary “Crip Camp” gives us a glimpse into this world and how that unique time led to the disability rights movement as it stands today.
Camp Jened was founded in the 1950s in upper New York as a place for young people with disabilities to experience summer camp and not feel as though they were on the outside looking in, as they often felt at home without basic civil rights in place. The camp was partially funded and supported by the parent led Jened Foundation
Directed and Produced by Nicole Newnham and Jim Libbrecht (a former Jened camper), “Crip Camp” shows incredible footage taken at the camp in 1971 where campers are seen letting loose and being themselves. While they are often overlooked in their communities back home, they are invited to speak freely about themselves into the camera.
We at the LightHouse recognized some of the crucial people documented and interviewed who were in the disability rights movement. Corbett O’Toole has served as the Accessibility Consultant at the Superfest Film Festival run by the LightHouse. Jim LeBrecht is a long-time friend of the LightHouse. In addition, the part of the film documenting the sit-in at the San Francisco Federal Building portrayed our neighboring building as a character in and of itself. We must also give thanks to Dennis Billups, who had an important role in the passing of the 504 document, regulations to the Rehab Act. He has been a speaker at LightHouse and continues advocating for and inspiring future generations in the blindness community.
A ripple effect spread from Camp Jened across the country, emulating the Civil Rights and other movements. “Their efforts contributed many advocates and philosophies to the American disability rights movement”, says Bryan Bashin, CEO of LightHouse for the Blind San Francisco. You could see they took what they learned at camp to the movement, especially at the 1977 sit-in at the Federal Building in San Francisco. In practicing inclusion, they always refused to hold any meeting until a sign language interpreter was present.
Since the time that Camp Jened started in the 1950s, our own Enchanted Hills Camp has been doing its part on the West Coast for decades to advocate for and foster community in the world of blindness and disability.
Enchanted Hills Camp Director Tony Fletcher reflects on EHC in light of this documentary:
“In 1950, Enchanted Hills Camp was founded on the principles of connecting blind youth to nature and recreation. Rose Resnick, (founder of EHC and an important part of the founding of LightHouse for the Blind San Francisco), felt there was a huge deficit on both accounts for blind youth. She herself had a passion for both nature and physical fitness. To get there, however, she knew campers must develop self-confidence, build independent living skills and become productive members of society. Rose did not want blind folks to be taken care of, she wanted blind folks to have the same opportunities as sighted folks to take care of themselves. Camp was not given to Rose. She was an advocate. She fought, fundraised, haggled, recruited and created the vision for the first camp for the blind west of the Mississippi. More importantly, it was founded by a blind person. As a program that walks the walk, we hold true to those very same values today and realize we produce the future leaders of tomorrow. We believe in promotion of independence, but we have learned to do it thru fun. From the building blocks of independence came advocacy and empowerment. Today many professionals in our field have had a connection to Enchanted Hills Camp. Some come as staff or volunteers, some as guests, but many come as campers that have attended Enchanted Hills Camp in one or more programs offered throughout the years.”
Our CEO Bryan Bashin, looks ahead and shares our vision: “As we rebuild our own camp, we hope it will be even more of a crucible in which friendships, idealism and social justice will be forged.”