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  • Writer's pictureClaire Freeman


I watched the Netflix film ‘Crip Camp’ the other night. What I thought would be a pretty little film about some ‘cripple’s frolicking in lakes while able-bodied people skulked around them, keeping them ‘safe from themselves’ turned out to be something quite different. I’m not one to read reviews so I went into the film like a new-born, I had no idea what to expect.

What started out as a visual freak-fest quickly turned into something else. I say that term in tongue and cheek as I often feel like that very ‘freak-fest’ every time I go out. I guess I feel a sense of entitlement to terms like ‘freak-fest’, ‘crip’ etc. I tried calling myself a ‘coconut’ once as my dad is Fijian but not looking in ANY way Fijian myself, I was reprimanded. Fair call I guess.

Back to the film. I’d give it a 5 star rating. There were some parts where my hand started twitching towards my phone.. a sign my brain wasn’t fully engaged, but those moments were few and far between. All in all, it was fascinating. I learnt a great deal, and afterwards, felt reinvigorated to keep up my own little ‘fight for justice’.

Perhaps in a sad way, although the gains we have made since the 1970’s are astronomical, I still feel my main stumbling block with this injury isn’t the injury itself, but the barriers imposed by the ‘outside world’. In fact, that very day, I was asked ‘what’s the worst thing about your injury?’ to which I replied (without hesitation) ‘social and attitudinal barriers’. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to skip amongst the daisies singing kumbaya while playing the piano and masturbating, but before that happens, I’d like to go somewhere, anywhere, without google mapping it first to see if there’s a step, or an accessible car-park, without knowing I’ll encounter someone I can’t see due to a high front reception desk – the top of my head obviously isn’t very eye catching as I get ignored a lot.

Sorry, I have a habit of making things about me. Back to the review! Crip Camp, executive producers were Barack and Michelle Obama (yes, I saw that in the title, had to rewind to see it again and say … WTF???). It was brilliant though. I knew a lot of the back story having studied and taught student about ‘the independent Living movement’ but learning about the camp, a very liberal camp for everyone with a disability, no matter what disability it was, was utterly eye-opening, on a few levels.

First, I was struck with a sense of unity. The ‘students’ attending the camp came from all sorts of backgrounds, had all sorts of disabilities and in spite of the differences, they got along. There was no obvious hierarchy, although a funny moment in the film came from Denise, a beautiful, feisty woman with cerebral palsy who fell in love with a guy with the same disability, only to be told by her family ‘why couldn’t you fall in love with someone with polio?. Polio, it seems, left people looking a bit more ‘normal’, thus more desirable!

I feel in comparison to back then, that unity has been lost somewhat, especially in New Zealand. Not helped by an unequal system that awards those with an injury with a lot more support than those who acquired theirs. However, watching the film gave me a glimpse into some of the ingredients needed to continue fighting the inequality we still face as disabled people.

Take home messages: Unity is key. We need to stand together (sic). All disabilities, all conditions, all beautiful differences we possess, there is power in numbers and change is more likely if we start working together more. When I first sustained my injury, I wanted nothing to do with other ‘cripples’. Not even from my own peeps – the spinal cord injured. This quickly dissipated after I realised I was being an egg, and in my own way, a disabled ableist!

To create change, resistance needs to happen from within. As disabled folks, we need to shout out when something seems discriminatory, we need to rally and we need to educate ourselves. For myself, education is my ticket to creating change. When I have completed my PhD, I shall wave my doctorate around like a mighty sword. Ok, slightly overdramatic, but I will dip my toes into the boiling pools of discrimination, of which there are still many.

Lastly, the take home message is that any of us, no matter what disability/super power we process, we can create change, meaningful change, change for the better of humanity. We can change dominant and often oppressive discourses – even putting up with it is a passive form of acceptance. We may need to be clever in our approaches, but I know anything can be achieved if the drive is there. However, it’s not something that easily achieved on ones own. This disability, my disability, it is hard work, day to day activities are harder, they take time, so support and unity is crucial. That’s what Crip camp taught me… and the fight continues.

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1 Comment

Jul 07, 2020

Hey Claire! I just read one of your recent blogs about how you don’t get many comments! I thought I’d try to brighten up your day! I became a quadriplegic 5 years ago now after a drunk driver incident. It was a massive change for me as I was only 17 at the time! It took a lot of adapting and dedication but I’ve finally come out the other side as a stronger person! My mental health drastically changed throughout this time and reading your blog in the last few months has helped me to see that I’m not alone! I know you probably get a lot of messages but it would be great if you could read this as…

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