On Nov. 10, the Meredith College Angels for Disability Advocacy (ADA) club hosted a movie and discussion in Kresge Auditorium. The featured film was Crip Camp, which follows the lives of disabled teenagers who attended Camp Jened together in the ’70s and how they went on to change the world for those with both physical and invisible disabilities. The Meredith Herald had the opportunity to interview ADA officers about their perspectives on sharing this film.
Club President Laurie Ponder, ‘22, told The Herald that the film Crip Camp was chosen “to highlight disability advocacy and the world before the American Disabilities Act of 1990.” She went on to say that while the world has changed a lot since then, there are still stigmas that must be addressed and fought. The club’s vice president, Rebecca Simmons, ‘23, also shared her perspective, explaining, “I picked the film Crip Camp because it’s one of the most relatable and person-centered introductions to the start of the disability rights movement in the United States.”
Simmons shared that her intention in sharing this film with the Meredith College community was “to provide an opportunity for the Meredith community to learn about and discuss the plight of disability not intrinsic to the human, but extrinsic to it in our government, education system, architecture, attitudes and culture of American individualism.” Simmons said she hoped that “Meredith students would be able to connect the barriers they saw in the film to those present on our campus and that this might spur them to become more involved in the disability community here at Meredith.”
Both Ponder and Simmons discussed the reclamation of a word that has been used to belittle the disabled community for centuries. Simmons stated, “To me, the reclamation of the word ‘cripple’ is a calculated assault on the institutions and attitudes that have historically employed it as a slur.” She explained that she feels its use by disabled people “directly opposes the infantilization that often follows them into adulthood” because it challenges ableist ideas that are prevalent in society. “It has the added benefit of making people uncomfortable enough to start a dialogue which can be turned into a larger discussion about what ableism and disability justice look like,” Simmons added.
Ponder also shared her perspective, stating, “Reclaiming the word ‘cripple’ means a lot to me because it was always a negative term that I couldn't even use for myself because I have a physical disability and all my life I thought about how the word describes me and it is part of me. I hate the societal stigma of the word, and reclaiming the word back for people with disabilities gives me the empowerment to be unique and powerful.” She reiterated that it’s okay to be different, and reclaiming the slur “gives [her] the power to embrace [herself] and [her] disability.”
Kaylee Haas, ‘22, social media chair for ADA, shared that she is not a person with a disability herself but does pride herself in the role she has as an ally. On the importance of allies, she stated, “From an ally perspective, I do not know what it's like to have a disability. However, it is my responsibility to educate myself and to understand the world around me.” She said that sharing Crip Camp and other similar movies along with reading books and joining the ADA club has made it “easier to access education and have thought-provoking conversations that all people can be a part of.” Simmons also pointed out that Meredith College alumnae could also join in allyship “by donating money to the school specifically for the benefit of students with disabilities to fund needed changes to classrooms, dorms, etc. to ensure that funding is allocated appropriately.”
Watching the film, I personally was surprised to learn that in the ‘60s and ‘70s there were protests across the country led by disabled people and their allies. I can’t honestly say I’ve heard the name Judith Heumann before. Judith Heumann is a prominent leader in disability justice around the world; she led the 28 day sit-in at the San Francisco Federal Building and was featured in Crip Camp. This movie showed the determination and valor that was needed to change a world that was not made with accessibility in mind. Crip Camp is available to view on Netflix.
The ADA club will be hosting similar events in the future, with students being allowed to join at any time whether they have a disability or are just an ally. If students are interested in getting involved, DM @merecoada on Instagram for information about meetings and future events. Ponder and Simmons both encouraged students to get involved. “It's time to make our voice be heard because people with disabilities are tired of automatically being excluded in activities in society,” Ponder said.
By Rachel Van Horne, Associate Editor