On July 22, 2021, coalition members had a critical discussion facilitated by Jason DeCamillis (teacher consultant at Washtenaw ISD) and me after watching the movie Crip Camp on Zoom. As a result, it launched a year-long initiative to create a universal design for place-based education and center Disabled learners, teachers, community members, and leaders, who are largely absent from PBE. With great concern, we state that these community members are largely excluded from our educational spaces whether their disability is apparent or not. We cannot truly experience community while excluding or ignoring people based on ability status. After all, all people in our schools and communities can benefit from a critical dialog around Disability, not just special ed teachers. Our movement has to be inclusive, not exclusionary!

 Crip Camp is about reclaiming and celebrating your identity, telling your story, and discovering the power of community. The film can be used to build an understanding of disability rights and justice, foster safe conversation and healthy discussions, amplify the voices and political leverage of a marginalized community, and build bridges between people who share very similar or different backgrounds inside and outside schools. 

We can all relate to elements in the film, whether it’s the joy of feeling accepted, coming-of-age stories, the thrill of approaching summer, or the courage to voice your beliefs. Place-based educators should (and have) engage in meaningful and honest discussions about what living with a disability was, is, and will be in the coming years. Today, 1 in 4 U.S. adults have some type of disability. Crip Camp is one disability community story. There are thousands more, led and told by people with all kinds of disabilities, ethnicities, genders, class backgrounds, and more. It is crucial to know that we cannot define disability only in relation to ability. People have memberships to different political and social groups, leading to intersections of oppression and privilege. To talk about disability, we need to talk about class, race, gender, age, citizenship, and so on. So, let’s make sure we listen to the stories of intersectional marginalized communities. The issue affects all of us, whether directly or indirectly.

Let’s re(imagine) our communities to put Disability Justice at the center of our PBE practices and envision a more beautiful and equitable world for all.  

Note: The Crip Camp Discussion Guidelines inspired our opening statement.