‘This camp changed the world’: New exhibit tracks the rise of the disability rights movement and its ties to UC Berkeley

September 15, 2023

Summer camp is a rite of passage for many kids in the United States. Swimming. Arts and crafts. Long conversations in the bunkhouse. And maybe even some precious memories to carry with you for a lifetime.  

For the campers and counselors at Camp Jened that experience meant even more. Jened was a sleepaway camp for people with disabilities that originally operated in upstate New York from 1951 to 1977. Amid the modest buildings and overgrown fields, the young people encountered something radical: a world that was built to include them, rather than ignore them.  

That experience — of equality, community, and empowerment — was the spark that ignited a revolution. Several Camp Jened alums became key figures in the disability rights movement in the U.S. They led one of the most impressive civil rights crusades in history, fighting for equal treatment under the law and reshaping the country’s public spaces. Their work ultimately led to the passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The wild thing is that this camp changed the world,” says Jim LeBrecht in the award-winning 2022 documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution. “And nobody knows its story.” LeBrecht, a Camp Jened alum, and co-director Nicole Newnham recount that extraordinary story in the film through an array of archival footage.

Crip Camp is this year’s featured work for UC Berkeley’s On the Same Page program. Each fall, the popular initiative features a work for new students to engage with through a variety of programs and events during the semester. To complement the selection, the UC Berkeley Library is hosting an exhibit that expands on the film’s themes, tracing the history of the disability rights movement from the camp to the Cal campus and beyond. A Camp, a Campus, and a Disability Revolution is on display starting Sept. 13 in Doe Library’s Bernice Layne Brown Gallery.

Berkeley Library