James LeBrecht is clearly not a big fan of President Donald Trump.
The veteran sound designer, disability-rights activist and Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution co-director explains that when the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, it was the first time he was guaranteed health insurance. Under Trump, those benefits are in danger of being wiped out. CNN and Washington Post journalist Rebecca Cokley has generally classified the administration’s policies as “a war on the disabled.” Last week, the Trump administration went to the Supreme Court seeking to invalidate the ACA. There’s also the fact that LeBrecht’s acclaimed Netflix documentary, Crip Camp, counts among its producers former President Barack Obama, who signed the ACA into effect, hence its notable nickname, Obamacare. (Barack and Michelle Obama produced the film under their new Higher Ground Productions entertainment banner.)
But that will not stop LeBrecht, who was born with spina bifida (a birth defect in the spinal cord that doesn’t allow him to use his legs), from defending Trump, 74, against the widespread mockery the president faced for two incidents during his appearance at the West Point commencement earlier this month. At one point Trump seemingly had trouble taking a sip of water with one hand, and later he slowly and tentatively navigated a downward ramp.
“I don’t care who it is. You don’t criticize somebody for their issues around what they’re capable or not capable of doing physically,” LeBrecht tells Yahoo Entertainment in a recent video chat interview, where he was joined by Crip Camp co-director Nicole Newnham (watch above).
“You don’t berate them. You don’t make fun of them. And whereas some of the policies of the current administration have not been friendly to people with disabilities, you’re seeing a lot of people saying, ‘You don’t do that. … You just don’t do that.’”
While many critics of Trump took delight in roasting his difficulties, which he later addressed during a controversial, sparsely attended rally in Tulsa, Okla., others, including Cokley, slammed those reactions by stating they were engaging in ableism.
The term ableism generally refers to discrimination and prejudice against people with disabilities or who are perceived to have disabilities, though it can also be applied to older people whose physical abilities or motor skills have worsened with age.
The concept has seen increased usage in popular lexicon in recent years, and that’s a very good thing, according to LeBrecht and Newnham.
“For the first time, there [is] actually a term for it, as opposed to saying ‘You’re discriminating against the handicapped.’ It’s like, ‘This is ableism,’” LeBrecht says.
“I think it’s incredibly positive,” adds Newnham. “First off, we wouldn’t be talking about ableism if it weren’t for disability activists, who have named that and framed it, and used a lot of activism, especially online, to get people to pay attention to it. But also ableism is going to impact pretty much every single one of us at some point in our life, if society defines us by what we’re capable of doing physically, that’s going to catch up with any of us sooner or later. So I think naming that and knowing it and fighting against it is going to be liberating for us all.”
Crip Camp, which debuted at January’s Sundance Film Festival and premiered on Netflix in March, follows the incredible and inspiring story of Camp Jened, a 1970s Upstate New York summer camp for teens with disabilities. Many of the camp’s attendees and their counselors would go on to play pivotal roles in the disability rights movement.
Look for our full interview with LeBrecht and Newnham as we approach the 30th anniversary of the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 on July 26.
Crip Camp is now streaming on Netflix.
Watch the trailer:
— Video produced by Jon San
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