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The Activist Star of ‘Crip Camp’ Looks Back at a Life on the Barricades

No. We were all adults, and what was important was to help make sure that we were able to get people in and out of the building who could help people. I’m not wanting to be cavalier — there were some people who couldn’t stay the whole time.

We cared about each other; we came together for the same purpose. People recognized that the cause we were fighting for meant something to us individually as well as to a bigger group.

How did you rally people with different sets of experiences with disability?

In the grass-roots groups and [the Center for Independent Living] we had to recognize that discrimination against one was discrimination against all — that we needed to look at putting aside, I’m blind, I’m deaf, I had polio, whatever it may be, and focus on the fundamental changes; that ultimately brought us together and keeps us together.

What about life before the A.D.A.?

If you couldn’t walk, how would you get on a bus? You couldn’t.

When we were in elementary school, we all came home and did stuff together, but once people started going to high school things changed because we were unable to do the things that our peers were doing. Teenagers would take a bus and go visit a friend, or go to the movies. I went to high school in a completely different school, because none of the high schools my friends went to were accessible. That’s why camp also played a very important role.

Looking back, since Camp Jened, what has been heartening?

In the ’50s and ’60s, where there were no laws, there were at least one million disabled children out of school — that is no longer true. [The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed in 1975.] Buses and trains were not accessible, housing didn’t have accessibility standards, and there was a very weak emerging disability-rights movement, and internationally, it was similar.

What’s happened is the formation of groups like the International Disability Alliance; the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, a treaty modeled on the A.D.A. (although we were unable to get the U.S. Senate to recommend ratification). We have the emergence of a stronger disability rights movement in the U.S. Organizations like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network run by people with autism, and organizations working cross-disability. Parents in the United States have also been gaining their voice.

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