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“It’s Really Historic”: ‘Crip Camp’ Subject Judy Heumann On Disability Rights Documentary

Deadline Hollywood News

15th April 2021

“It’s Really Historic”: ‘Crip Camp’ Subject Judy Heumann On Disability Rights Documentary’s Oscar Nomination

By Matthew Carey

When Judy Heumann—one of the main subjects of the Oscar-nominated documentary Crip Camp—was five years old in the early 1950s, her mother tried to register her for kindergarten in New York City. The staff took one look at Judy, who used a wheelchair as a result of polio, and denied her.

“The school principal said I was a fire hazard, I couldn’t go to the school,” Heumann recalls. “He told my family, ‘Don’t worry, the Board of Education will send a teacher to your house.’ Well, they did. Not in kindergarten, but for the first, second, third and half of the fourth grade, for a total of two and a half hours a week. So that was a very clear message that their expectations for me were not the expectations my parents had for me.”

Heumann contracted polio before the age of two. At the time, a doctor told her parents they should put her in an institution.

“In many ways, institutionalization was the status quo in 1949,” Heumann writes in her book Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist.

“Kids with disabilities were considered a hardship, economically and socially. They brought stigma to the family.”

Times have changed. But they might not have changed without the sustained efforts of Heumann and activists like her, who fought to change perceptions of disabled people and for legislation to protect the rights of the disabled.

Crip Camp, directed by Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht, traces the emergence of the disability rights movement in the 1970s. The Netflix film documents how a summer camp in upstate New York for disabled youth played a crucial role in the development of a number of the movement’s future leaders, including Heumann.

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