If You Build It...
If You Build It…
BROOKE GLADSTONE Statues are being toppled semi-regularly now, but the fight over monuments dates all the way back to when our not-yet-nation had only one.
KIRK SAVAGE They took King George's head and sliced his nose off and melted down much of the statues.
BROOKE GLADSTONE From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD And I'm Bob Garfield. On the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we look at how the movement changed the world for all of us. Like the ubiquitous curb cut.
SARA HENDREN If you're somebody who pushes a stroller through the built environment, you participate in those politics, too.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Also, a new documentary shows that some of the leaders of that movement got their start in activism at a hippie Catskills camp for the disabled and took it all the way to the White House.
JUDY HEUMANN If I have to feel thankful about an accessible bathroom, when am I ever going to be equal in the community?
BOB GARFIELD It's all coming up, after this. From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media, I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And I'm Brooke Gladstone. For over three weeks, protesters in Portland, part of a nationwide movement against racial injustice, have been terrorized.
NEWS REPORT Video emerged on Twitter apparently showing federal officers dressed in camouflage, grabbing protesters off the streets of Portland.
NEWS REPORT Without name tags, and without any indication of what agency they work for. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT Sometimes for up to a week - they're holding them. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE These federal forces, deployed by the White House, have prompted a lawsuit from the Oregon Attorney General against the agencies that command them for unprecedented overreach. And late Thursday, a federal judge issued a restraining order barring those forces from arresting or using physical force against journalists and stated that the press could ignore those officers' orders to disperse. President Trump says he did it to block efforts to, quote, "wipe out our history." Here and there, America's memorialized men have taken a few knocks.
NEWS REPORT This weekend in Baltimore, on the Fourth of July, protesters ripped down a Christopher Columbus statue, throwing it into the city's harbor. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT The statue of Jefferson Davis was pulled down in Richmond. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE If you care about racial justice, those guys had it coming. But...
NEWS REPORT Statue of abolitionists legend Frederick Douglass torn down over the weekend in Rochester, New York. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE In Portland, protesters have pulled down the Jefferson statue in front of Jefferson High School, toppled George Washington on the lawn of the German American society, and set fire to a bronze elk dedicated to a former mayor. Turns out, though, that arguing over and tearing down monuments is very much part of our history. Kirk Savage, a professor of the history of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh, has written about the history of U.S. monuments all his career. He says that discord can be traced back to a time when there was only one major statue in all the land, that of King George III, erected in 1770 on New York City's Bowling Green. And on July 9th, 1776, American revolutionaries destroyed it with extreme prejudice.
KIRK SAVAGE They took King George's head and sliced his nose off and melted down much of the statue and turned it into bullets that would go back into the bodies of the British soldiers.
BROOKE GLADSTONE After George Washington died, there were calls for monuments, and there was a debate over whether a nation founded on principles of democracy and equality should have them at all.
KIRK SAVAGE You know, the whole idea of a monument was to erect something that actually represented the authority of that government as kind of God-given and lasting forever. And that is antithetical to the project of a democratic republic, in which people are governed by citizens governing themselves. That argument was made in the wake of Washington's death. That all monuments in some form or another were representations of tyranny.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You quote North Carolina Congressman Nathaniel Macon, who said the year after Washington died, "monuments are good for nothing. The money could be better spent teaching the poor how to read so they could learn Washington's story for themselves."
KIRK SAVAGE You know, it's a great argument. And in 1800 it was being passionately debated in Congress and in the press. John Nicholas made perhaps the most amazing anti-monumental proposal. He proposed that over Washington's tomb should be erected a what he called a plain tablet on which men could write what their heart dictated. The whole idea was this would be a living memorial, right, and it would only last as long as the citizens felt strongly enough to write in this blank tablet.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So we're having this debate, and the statues are built anyway.
KIRK SAVAGE In the first 30, 40 years of the 19th century, there were several campaigns to erect statues of Washington in cities around the country. And this culminated in a U.S. congressional commission for a statue of Washington for the rotunda of the Capitol Building. This statue of Washington was notorious for a lot of reasons, but he is colossal, seated at a throne in a posture that was based on the ancient Greek statue of Zeus at Olympia. He is bare chested with bulging pecs and the whole business. So he's represented as a kind of all powerful god. It certainly was not citizen George Washington, that's for sure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Can we hop ahead to the Civil War? It was a time of self-examination for the nation.
KIRK SAVAGE We have to remember that at this point in time, there were still relatively few public monuments in the United States. But the assassination of Lincoln and the Union victory generated lots and lots of calls for monuments in 1865-66. At the same time, there were many people calling for the creation of what they called utilitarian memorials, which were things like schools and hospitals, veterans homes, naming them after union war heroes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE But the anti-utilitarians, like the critic Walter Dean Howells, who you quote, wrote in 1866 that there should be representative art.
KIRK SAVAGE Howells, had spent the war years in Italy as a diplomat. He was so impressed with how much beautiful art there was in Italy and how it was woven into daily life. He came back to the United States thinking that what the US needed was monuments that in some way expressed the incredible change that the war had wrought on the country, what he called a change in races, ethics and ideas. And so the one piece that he could point to was this little statuette of a black man, obviously at rest, paused on his flight to freedom.
BROOKE GLADSTONE The picture of the freedmen shows someone who is focused, who is full of dignity, and who is utterly self-possessed.
KIRK SAVAGE Absolutely. It was first exhibited in New York in 1863. It was a very controversial selection and it was put into a dimly lit corner. So that gives you an idea of how a dignified representation of a Black man trying to escape to freedom was in itself incredibly controversial.
BROOKE GLADSTONE The dominant issue in the north was a vision of Lincoln, as a hero/liberator.
KIRK SAVAGE Uplifting the black race to citizenship and freedom.
BROOKE GLADSTONE It's kind of appalling, the Emancipation Memorial that was erected in D.C.
KIRK SAVAGE The Emancipation Memorial was actually the very first monument in the United States that represented a Black figure. And we reverted to this old formula of the white savior and the kneeling Black slave. It was funded, entirely by the contributions of Black people, mostly Black Union soldiers, but they had absolutely no input into the design. And the artist was chosen by a white philanthropic organization. So there's no hint in that monument of the incredibly important and active role that enslaved people took in their own liberation.
BROOKE GLADSTONE The enslaved, themselves, are bit players.
KIRK SAVAGE Yes. Now, the Emancipation Proclamation that Lincoln is holding in that monument, he issued because enslaved people had already been taking their own destiny into their hands and escaping and reaching the Union lines. And it had gotten to a point where he realized he probably could only win the war by enlisting these people into the Union Army. None of that, of course, appears in any way in the statue. What the monument did was to freeze that really unfortunate moment for all time. The Black man in the monument is forever kneeling at Lincoln's feet; he's never going to rise in that monument. And that image became very iconic. It was reproduced at the end of Thomas Edison's film of Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1902, it was put on a postage stamp in the 20th century to commemorate the 13th Amendment, the abolition of slavery. It normalized white supremacy in the monumental landscape, and made it, I think, much more possible for the lost cause commemoration to flourish.
BROOKE GLADSTONE I'm just wondering, given your long immersion in this mixed history of monuments, how do you feel about what we're seeing right now?
KIRK SAVAGE It's really a stunning outcome for me personally, because throughout the 1990s, a lot of these Confederate monuments, there was absolutely no talk of removing them whatsoever. And in fact, many of them were being restored and some of them were even being rededicated. The neo-confederate movement was in full swing. The last thing I would have ever dreamed at that moment was that any of these monuments would come down.
BROOKE GLADSTONE How do you feel about it?
KIRK SAVAGE Well, I have mixed feelings about it. I do actually support the removal of most Confederate monuments. I made the argument back in 1997 that these were white supremacist monuments. And I feel like, well, that argument has won.
BROOKE GLADSTONE But you're also a historian. These are artifacts.
KIRK SAVAGE Yes. So, you know, as art historians, we're committed to preservation. But there are different ways to conserve monuments. They don't have to be up in public space, in honorific positions. But at the same time, I think, you know, what's happening at the sites of these monuments right now is so incredible.
NEWS REPORT The lead Confederate monument now of Virginia, centerpiece for the Black Lives Matter movement. [END CLIP]
PROTESTOR It says freedom. It says, like, liberation. People coming together for one cause. [END CLIP]
KIRK SAVAGE The whole question that monuments raise is really a question of engagement. How are we going to activate these sites, and use them in a way to advance the project of democracy, and to advance the project of equality, advance the project of Black Lives Matter? How are we going to do that? That's really the question for me. It's a problem of democratic engagement. I don't think that we need permanent monuments, and that we would be better off if we continually renewed the memorial landscape. You know, I made a proposal at the end of my book on the memorial landscape of Washington D.C. that we should have a moratorium on all permanent monument building for 10 years and just have temporary projects, to see what might happen. Not abandoning entirely the idea of permanent monuments, but maybe abandoning it for the next century.
BROOKE GLADSTONE We want public squares
KIRK SAVAGE Right! This has been done in other places. There's the fourth plinth in London, an empty plinth that was supposed to have a statue in it. It was never made in the last decade or so. Artists come in and they erect these temporary monuments on the plinth, six months at a time. It would really engage the public in ways that could be a lot more powerful than erecting a statue to somebody that nobody has heard of anymore and really didn't even care about it in the first place.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Kirk, thank you so much.
KIRK SAVAGE Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Kirk Savage is a professor of the history of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh.
BOB GARFIELD Coming up, how the pandemic will change our built world.
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On the Media.
This is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD And I'm Bob Garfield. The pandemic that's turned life upside down will live beyond the actual contagion. Society worldwide will be retrofitted on a grand scale. And in one dimension in particular, the retrofitting will be literal. The built world, streets, homes, offices, transportation, arenas is destined to change. If you think about torn out theater seats and vacant office buildings, it's changing already. But history, like biology itself, is the story of adaptation. This isn't the first time our cities, buildings, and public spaces have adapted in the wake of infectious disease. Writing in Slate, Vanessa Chang explained how spatial intervention and innovation in a time of illness can be traced to the early 20th century, when cholera, tuberculosis, and flu pandemics abounded, and architects used design to heal people.
VANESSA CHANG Until the discovery of the tubercle bacillus, it was the end of the 19th century, treatment was primarily environmental. And sanatoriums emerged as a way to treat tuberculosis because it was understood that ample exposure to air and sunlight were crucial in mitigating the worst effects of this respiratory illness.
BOB GARFIELD Wherever they were located, they all had essentially the same design. Can you describe what the typical sanatorium looked like?
VANESSA CHANG There were a lot of roof terraces and balconies. Healthier patients might ascend to these roof terraces. If they were weaker, there were lots of open balconies where they could recline. In the best sanatoriums, they had lots of separation. For example, in the Paimio Sanatorium in Finland, each patient had their own handwashing station. There was a lot of really minimalist design, as well, to prevent the accumulation of dust that the TB bacillus could reside in, and lots of opportunity for the movement of patients, as well as air, through the spaces that they inhabited.
BOB GARFIELD The design principles of the sanatorium spread outside of these health resorts to other structures, and you write informed a good part of modern architecture for decades. How so?
VANESSA CHANG A lot of the major modernist architects were informed by this movement. Le Corbusier and a number of other major modernist architects even designed sanatoriums like Alvar Aalto, who did the Paimio Sanatorium and Jan Duiker at the de Zonnestraal TB Sanatorium. These early modernist architects were really interested in rejecting ornamentation, for example. So you see that in a lot of this modernist esthetic. In the furniture, in the way in which space is designed, trying to disavow clutter. The aesthetic was also very clinical.
BOB GARFIELD Minimal, scrubbable, a lot of right angles, and a lot of white.
VANESSA CHANG Yeah. And also a continuity between inside and outside. So large windows spaces as well. And opening windows. Ribbon windows was a popular design feature for Le Corbusier. These are all ways to kind of bridge the interior and the exterior world.
BOB GARFIELD Now you write that this went beyond hygiene. That cleanliness and light and openness were deemed not just an aesthetic, but a moral imperative. Brocade and carpeting and ornamentation were poisonous to the soul.
VANESSA CHANG The philosophy that most embodies this idea would be Adolf Loos's tract Ornament and Crime. He was an early modernist architect and he designed a building in Vienna called the Loos House. And it really scandalized the Viennese because it had no eyebrows, or adornment, over its windows. He argued that the ostentatious decor of earlier 20th century architecture was a crime because it was a waste. That these would go out of style and become obsolete. And it was a crime to waste that effort when it would go out of style. He also suggested that ornament was immoral, and he described it as degenerate. And it's a problematic text in a lot of ways. There's some, kind of, troublingly colonial and racist ideas in it about what ornament is.
BOB GARFIELD There's so much to unpack there in the notion of ornamentation as degenerate. First of all, it anticipates things that Hitler and Stalin would say later in the century about various kinds of art. Is there any evidence, though, that modernism was, in fact, genuinely healthful? Physically, socially, morally- any which way? I mean, did it work?
VANESSA CHANG Some of these buildings, like Aalto's Paimio Sanatorium, were very successful and I think it's still a rehab center for children. You know, so the best of these principles, when put into practice and put into practice thoughtfully and in the right context, could be healing. But it was a vision of utopia that didn't actually take everyone into account, right. I think the most major failures of architectural modernism were in public housing. So it became quite popular in the 1920s, along with the rise of Le Corbusier, other major architectural figures. But that communities living in this housing weren't consulted about their lifestyle and wishes. I mean, I think it really reflects some of the problems around sanatoria as well. A lot of these treatments for tuberculosis were pretty expensive. And so they weren't available to everyone. You know, you had to be fairly wealthy to be able to go and enjoy these treatments in these wonderful, lush, open spaces.
BOB GARFIELD Thomas Mann. Yes. Joe Lunchpail. Not necessarily.
VANESSA CHANG Right. Exactly. So when you don't take those uneven class dynamics into account, and you don't take into account the needs of different kinds of communities and you try to impose this vision of utopia and hell from above, these larger visions of healing fail.
BOB GARFIELD Vanessa, thank you for joining us.
VANESSA CHANG You're welcome.
BOB GARFIELD Vanessa Chang is a lecturer at California College of the Arts and lead curator with CODAME Art + Tech.
Well, isn't this awkward? Eight billion people living in an environment constructed over centuries, and suddenly that infrastructure is dangerous to us. Narrow passageways, cramped indoor spaces, poor ventilation. The virus is hyper-contagious, and the world is a gigantic subway car. So now we have to play catch up to retrofit the entire built world to accommodate a new biological reality. To some people, though, that's a movie they've seen before, namely those with disabilities for whom reconceptualizing the design of things is lifelong practice. And it begins with the simple matter of perspective. The model for defining disability, medical or social?
MIK SCARLET The medical model says, I am disabled by the fact that my legs don't work. That I have a spinal injury and that left me paralyzed.
BOB GARFIELD Mik Scarlet is an expert in the field of access and inclusion for disabled people in the UK.
MIK SCARLET The social model says that's my impairment, but I'm disabled because when I go out in my wheelchair, the world around me is designed for people who can walk.
BOB GARFIELD In a COVID environment, Scarlet says, suddenly more people than ever are comprehending what it's like to be at odds with the built environment.
MIK SCARLET But also the nondisabled people have finally got that idea of what it's like to be told, "No, I'm sorry, you can't come in." "Why?" "Oh, we don't have access for you." Well, that's exactly the same as being told, "I'm sorry you can't go out because there's this pesky virus out there." It's having your world shrunk when it's not your fault. And it's been quite an eye-opener to see people really not knowing how to cope with suddenly not having any control over their lives, becuase for many of us, this is what our day to day life is, all the while.
BOB GARFIELD Having spent a career battling resistance from able bodied skeptics and competing political constituencies such as historical preservationists and bike path advocates, Scarlett cops to some ungenerous feelings along the I-told-you-so, told-you-so, what-goes-around-comes-around lines. But mainly he is hopeful that his moment of vindication is also one of universal opportunity.
MIK SCARLET Actually, I'm really hoping that this whole terrible period with this virus has shown the world that we need a new way of thinking. And that actually, now is the time to listen to those disabled people like myself. An inclusive society would be much easier to lock down. It would be much easier to come out of lockdow. And it would be much easier to socially distance.
BOB GARFIELD The activist Alice Wong, the founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, has described disabled people as modern day oracles, heroically imagining our infrastructure future. Scarlet says that the comparison works for him.
MIK SCARLET We want to be, like Alice said, your oracle. We want to say, when you come out of this, if you ask us how to get better and how to cope, we can help. I also really hope that all the people that have had COVID, and I really hope that we as a community, disabled community, given the opportunity to help and support those people and bring them all of the stuff that we've learned over decades. They'll be blaming themselves and the disease for not being do the stuff they did before. And actually what we say is, no, it's society. If we will build a better world, those people could come back into the world quicker, they can do more, we won't lose them, they won't disappear into these horrible, excluded world, that, you know, we grew up in, disabled people have grown up in. You know for them alone, we owe it to society to make a better place for us all to live.
BOB GARFIELD Mik Scarlet is a consultant in the field of access and inclusion for disabled people in the United Kingdom. As Scarlet suggests, we can adjust to the new built reality by taking lessons from the disability movement which has, over the past half century, yielded infrastructure accommodations now so ubiquitous we take them for granted. Sara Hendren, a professor at Olin College of Engineering, is author of the new book What Can a Body Do? How We Meet the Built World. She's reminded of the work of Ed Roberts.
SARA HENDREN He was a college student in the 1960s at UC Berkeley. He was a polio survivor, and someone he used quite a lot of complex medical equipment his whole life. And he attended high school by patching into his classroom via telephone and also to his local community college while living at home. But once he got to Berkeley, Roberts wanted to live on campus, and so he worked with a doctor, Dr. Henry Browne, who was on staff at the Cowell Hospital, which is the hospital on campus at Berkeley, and he and Brown figured out that if he could turn what had normally been just a hospital room into a makeshift dormitory room, that he could actually reinvent what it meant to be a student on campus. And so Roberts then was joined by a dozen other students who were newly able to come to Berkeley with their kind of medical needs intact. And once they finished at Berkeley, they thought, well, we need a way to make creative housing that's independent with help outside of the campus also. And in doing so, they were trying to say, there are lots of things that we can't actually do physically for ourselves, but with help, we can be independent in a redefined way. That is, we may not be doing everything in a self-sufficient body, but we are enacting a kind of self-determination by orchestrating the help that we need. And so this was an idea that started with design and architecture in a key way, that became an idea that influenced the world.
BOB GARFIELD Well, to quote a cigarette ad jingle of that era, "we've come a long way, baby." Public bathrooms, sidewalk, curb cuts, ramps, they're now ubiquitous. Remarkable, really, only when they're absent.
SARA HENDREN That's right. Curb cuts, people may know, are just the cut that happens from the sidewalk to the street and then back up again. You go down a ramp, now, instead of a hard step down. That was a hard won fight and a legal guarantee that was rolled out at infrastructural scale. If you're somebody who pushes a stroller through the built environment, if you're someone who's dragging wheeled luggage behind you, if you're someone walking a bike, you participate in those politics, too. And even one generation behind, it's easy to forget just how improbable that seemed when people were lobbying for it, but also to see, like, wow, the built environment actually isn't as fixed and permanent as we might think, that it can be edited, it can be unmade and remade. And that is also the work of design, not just shiny new products, but taking a look at the status quo and asking whether it might be otherwise.
BOB GARFIELD Some of this stuff like curb cuts, like closed captioning on television, they benefit not just the disabled. They're kind of crossover adaptations, no?
SARA HENDREN That's right. And that's often called, in my field, universal design. So Deaf watchers of television were saying, a long time ago, we want captioning to be a standard part of every television set. And a lot of people from the outside would say, well, this is a niche market. But it turns out that once closed captioning became a kind of feature of everyday life, whereby if you're at an airport or a restaurant, you can follow along with the game or the debate or you can watch videos on silent if your kids are in the next room trying to get to sleep.
BOB GARFIELD The point being, though, instead of thinking of these crossover benefits as serendipitous, if you begin with the notion of universal design, you will be accommodating not just the disabled, but the entire population. So why not start there? Is that the premise?
SARA HENDREN It's certainly one call to take a look really at what are the so-called margins. It turns out, though, that disability is a particularly interesting case because for one thing, the WHO put out a report in 2011 saying that over a billion people globally live with some condition of disability. So it's not quite so abnormal as we might think. But also, if you think about the span of your life, you enter the world quite dependent on other people. We often, in the latter part of our lives, also experience greater, and even acute, dependence and interdependence on other people. So disability concerns are genuinely universal. If we see that it's actually a feature of our everyday lives, then we start to see it not as something to be only pitied or avoided, right, but instead to say, oh, I locate myself here, too. I'm a human being with a body that has needs. And so I can ask myself, can I bring my body to the built world or will I ask the world to adapt a little bit to me as well?
BOB GARFIELD Coronavirus has made the universality imperative all the more urgent. We are facing what disabled people have faced their whole lives and infrastructure that just doesn't work for us anymore.
SARA HENDREN It's true. And if you ask disabled people, I've watched this closely in my own disability community, they will tell you, we have been asking for things like more flexible, remote work options and things that we're seeing now suddenly made quite robust because they're needed in the mainstream. But disabled people have been asking for those for a long time. The key invitation here, again, is to say, where are the places where we might look to the temporary kind of rebuilding of the built world? And I mean things like seniors only shopping hours, and shared street initiatives. Those are things that are being prototyped right now under the conditions that we're in. And the call to us is to say, might there be the glimmering light of a good idea in general? But we want to continue some of these things in order to make a friendlier world for a lot of bodies. I must say, when I'm looking at the neighborhood listservs in my own neighborhood about shared streets, opening them up to pedestrians and bicycles in a more robust way, you know, those listservs, those discussion boards are full to the brim of people saying, before it's even started, "This will never work; the way things are is the way things must be." And I find we constantly need resources and reminders and indeed, like basic social trust, to say, what if we prototype a little bit? What if we try?
BOB GARFIELD I want to ask about silver linings. Is there anything in this suddenly urgent need for redesign that makes you feel hopeful?
SARA HENDREN So many of the stories in my book are of people who not only found the status quo to be insufficient, but they were willing to do the kind of 5 or 10 years of bureaucratic work to see that new thing made real. And that, of course, is a longer story. And it defies the timescale of social media. It defies picking up the right books right now in this kind of fervor. I'm for reading good books, but boy, thing I have learned watching disabled people is that the long work of structural change takes a kind of longer timescale and a commitment, and it takes that generous thinking. And there, yes, you might say that that sounds Pollyanna. I think it's actually the deepest call for the deepest work we can do. It requires us to keep practicing trust, even in the face of deep pessimism and uncertainty. That is, history shows, how we do get an edited world at the least, and sometimes altogether new structures.
BOB GARFIELD Sara, thank you very much.
SARA HENDREN Thank you. It's an honor.
BOB GARFIELD Sara Hendren is a professor at Olin College of Engineering. She's the author of the new book What Can a Body Do?
BROOKE GLADSTONE Coming up, the seeds of the Americans with Disabilities Act were sown by the Civil Rights Movement and by Crip Camp.
BOB GARFIELD This is On the Media.
This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And I'm Brooke Gladstone. This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA, a landmark law that helped make public life more accessible with ramps and elevators at libraries, sign language interpreters in schools, and crucial protections against workplace discrimination. A new Netflix documentary called Crip Camp tells the story of the disability rights movement and the activists who spent decades fighting for the ADA. Borrowing tactics from the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement, they forced disability rights into the national conversation.
PROTESTOR They lied about the war in Vietnam. They've lied about every damn thing in the world. They lied about Watergate and they're lying about how they're treating us. They're lying about how treat the physically disabled and mentally retarded in this country. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE And they raised the heat under Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and just about every president since.
NEWS REPORT The first family used the side door today to leave Washington's First Baptist Church. The Carters avoided about 20 handicapped persons demonstrating across the street from the door the president normally uses. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Judy Heumann, features prominently in the movement and the film. She'd later serve as Special Advisor for International Disability Rights for the Obama administration. But first, she was on the forefront of the movement pushing for the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that barred discrimination on the basis of disability, and especially Section 504 of that act, which defined, in real terms, what that would actually mean. She began her journey, though, in the early 60s as a camper and then in the 70s as a counselor at Camp Jened, a countercultural haven and place of liberation for disabled kids and teenagers. Crip Camp is rich with old footage of the camp and its campers up to the present day. I told Judy I found the film a revelation and that it left me, for lack of a better word, verklempt.
JUDY HEUMANN I'm really glad you liked it. What did you like about it in particular?
BROOKE GLADSTONE It doesn't reflect that well on me, but the whole front section about the camp, I suddenly had patience to listen to people that I couldn't understand, to pay attention where I hadn't paid attention before. Like I said, this doesn't speak all that well of me, but all I can say is that I went away from the movie changed. I mean, if you had stopped me on the street and said, you know, do you think people with disabilities, especially people who can't talk, are lesser than, I'd say, don't be ridiculous! But did I ever stop and hear what they say? First of all, not a lot of contact.
JUDY HEUMANN You know, it's not that people can't speak, but they're not speaking in a way that we typically understand. Cause their speech patterns are different. You know, the point that you made, that's really important. You didn't really know people who had speech disabilities or probably people who had other types of disabilities. So did the film bring you closer to being able to listen to the voices of disabled people in a way you couldn't hear before?
BROOKE GLADSTONE I had the opportunity to experience their sense of humor and their depth and their insight, not just their suffering.
JUDY HEUMANN Well, you're presuming their suffering.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Not just their struggle.
JUDY HEUMANN Right. Somehow I feel when people look at those of us with disabilities, they presume that everyone is suffering. Why is it difficult for so many non-disabled people to see us as individual people, and look at the absence of us in the community and be questioning where are we? Why are we not in work? Why are we not on the streets? And I think it's people are blocking us out of their mind because they're afraid of being like us.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You'd grown up in in East Flatbush and you got polio, you couldn't walk for the early years of your life, though, with your friends and family, you never felt excluded. And then you did.
JUDY HEUMANN I had polio when I was 18 months old. We lived in Brooklyn on East 38th Street. I knew that I was different because I had a scream into people's houses to see if kids can come out and play instead of going up the stairs and knocking on the door. But on the other hand, we were all friends. The biggest issue is when I was five years old, I was considered a fire hazard. So I didn't go to kindergarten. And the first, second, third, and half of the fourth grade, the New York City Board of Education graciously sent a teacher to the house two and a half hours a week. I started going to school when I was nine years old in the middle of the fourth grade. And I started going to Camp Jened when I was about twelve years old. We're talking about the 60s. The late 50s, early 60s - we didn't even have the Civil Rights Act.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Could you tell me a little bit about the spirit of the camp, the egalitarian nature of it? There was smoking and messing around.
JUDY HEUMANN We were teenagers, right. So we didn't necessarily have the same opportunities to be going off and exploring sexuality with other people, you know, like my friends could in my neighborhood. So camp really was a place to do many things that were typical, but weren't typical to us.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Can I play you a piece of tape from Denise Jacobson, a woman with cerebral palsy. She said at home some people had a hierarchy of disability.
DENISE JACOBSON Hierarchy of disability. Polio’s were on top, and the CP’s were at the bottom [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE The polio's were on top because they looked normal, and the CP's, the cerebral palsies, were at the bottom.
DENISE JACOBSON But at Jened, you were just a kid [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE But at Jened, you were just a kid. Neil, her husband, who also has cerebral palsy and who she met at camp, recalls his mother telling him she understood why he wanted to marry a disabled girl. But couldn't he have picked the polio.
NEIL JACOBSON A polio (laughter)
JUDY HEUMANN Definitely, then and now, the more typical you look and sound, the more likely it is you're going to be accepted in the broader community.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Was it all as crazy and as glorious as it seemed?
JUDY HEUMANN At Jened?
BROOKE GLADSTONE There's a kind of wondrousness, almost like your Dorothy going from black and white to color.
JUDY HEUMANN I think there's truth in that because we were in a playing field that was equal for everyone. And we were not only not left out, but we were also taking the opportunity to think about how we wanted to create a different world. What did we want different?
BROOKE GLADSTONE And so let's start with what you were up against. You were trying to change America's perceptions of disabled people, too.
JUDY HEUMANN I would say that representation of disabled people, where it existed, was on things like the Jerry Lewis Telethon. The movie A Patch of Blue, with Sidney Poitier, where he befriends friends a young woman who is blind. There is a scene where she is dancing not as a blind person, and the actress wasn't blind, reveling in not having her disability. So, then and now, continual message of having a disability is not good. And in your mind, fantasizing what life would be like if only you weren't the person that you were. In like the New York Times, we actually when I was with this group called Disabled in Action, we had a demonstration outside of the New York Times because we couldn't get them to cover, at that time, disability as a rights based issue. It was raise money, raise money and cure, cure, cure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE At one point, fifty of you blocked Madison Avenue in Manhattan. In that case, you were fighting to bring attention to the Rehabilitation Act, which Nixon had vetoed in 1972. I want to stop and talk about what it was that Nixon had vetoed, and in particular, the text of Section 504.
JUDY HEUMANN The essence of Section 504 is if you get money from the federal government, you can't discriminate against one based on disability. Section 504 would have prohibited what happened to me when my mother took me to school in the early 1950s. When I was denied my job as a teacher in Brooklyn, the reason I was denied my job was paralysis of both lower extremities, that would have been completely illegal. They would have had to grant me a license because I had passed the oral and I had passed the written. The other thing is when I took those exams, they were all given in completely inaccessible buildings. That also would have been a violation of 504. So, Section 504 was really the beginning of an emancipation act. Cause it didn't cover the private sector. Which meant if you got money for Lincoln Center, you couldn't discriminate. But if you were a private theater, you could.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Let me hop ahead to 1977. You were interviewed on television, and the host asked you...
HOST How has the situation changed since 1973? Are you still as upset and angry as you were then?
JUDY HEUMANN What I've tried to do in part is to turn some of that anger around and put it into positive action. And outside the fact that legislation has been passed, there's been very little actual enforcement. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Jimmy Carter, who was president in 1977, claimed he would uphold Section 504, but his secretary of health, education and welfare, Joseph Califano, he said he was reviewing it, but really he was weakening it and delaying it.
JUDY HEUMANN And the thing about the regulations and why we were fighting so hard to get the regulations that act gone to the secretary's desk is because there were so many modifications. There was so much compromise that we felt if they made further compromise, that it basically would have gutted the intent of the law.
Now, there was an organization that started in 1975, called the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities. It was a very important organization at that time because it was the first national, cross-disability organization. Blind people, Deaf people, physically disabled people, veterans organizations, etc. One of the prime purposes this group came together was to fight for the 504 regulations and other regulations to be implemented.
BROOKE GLADSTONE There was a great deal of blood, sweat and tears involved in this effort. A month of your colleagues basically staking out an office, living there in San Francisco, being fed by volunteers and notably, though, not surprisingly, the Black Panthers.
JUDY HEUMANN And Safeway and Glide Memorial Church and many other groups. The Panthers clearly played the most important role as far as bringing food into the building.
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is James LeBrecht, one of the film's directors, Jened alumnus, and another activist who was there.
JAMES LEBRECHT I'm amazed at how many people stayed and what these people had to endure. Not having a backup ventilator, not having your usual personal care attendant. Here, we're talking about quadriplegics who can't turn themselves during the middle of the night to prevent body sores and to be sleeping on the floor? I mean, that's a recipe for disaster. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE As one of the leaders of this demonstration, did you ever question what you were putting you and your cohort through?
JUDY HEUMANN No. I didn't. Because there was no stigma about leaving. And there were plenty of people who couldn't stay, or came for a little bit, then left. Then they participated outside in demonstrations, which happened every day. Fundamentally, Brooke, these demonstrations allowed a much larger group of disabled people to see that we had rights and that we frequently had to fight for those rights. And you could see some of the really powerful changes when for the first time they felt proud of who they were. That they were making a difference, and that they were part of a bigger movement to break down the barriers which were prohibiting us from living our lives in an equal way.
BROOKE GLADSTONE One of the most striking moments from the film was when the 504 sit-in was over, you're meeting with a group of activists. You are asked how you feel, and as a viewer, I'm expecting you to be jubilant.
JUDY HEUMANN On the one hand, I'm sitting here feeling like I should say everything is wonderful. And I'm very tired of being thankful for accessible toilets (laughter). And I really am tired of feeling that way. If I have to feel thankful about an accessible bathroom, when am I ever going to be equal in the community? [END CLIP]
JUDY HEUMANN I've talked about bathrooms a lot in my life, publicly, because it makes people uncomfortable. Because no one wants to think about what would it be like for me if I couldn't go to the bathroom. But, if one could think about not being able to go to the bathroom for basically a day and that being repeated over and over again, which is what many of us experience on a regular basis.
One of the values of the ADA 30th anniversary is not only to talk about the positive changes that have happened, but to also look at what we need beyond on these laws. We need enforcement. Money being put in to train disabled people on what their rights are, because many disabled people and non-disabled people in the US have no idea what the Americans with Disabilities Act is.
BROOKE GLADSTONE What was the significance of it?
JUDY HEUMANN It covers them public and private sector. So, if you've got to apply for a job, they cannot deny you the right to interview you because you have a disability. Transportation, having to be made accessible, you know, buses and trains, sign language interpreters, captioning, the ability for blind people to be able to vote. The Americans with Disabilities Act was and is an emancipation proclamation because it has granted 61 million disabled people rights that we didn't have before.
BROOKE GLADSTONE The Black Lives Matter movement seems to catalyzed an incredible amount of change in a very short period of time. But many of its supporters fear that its more ambitious goals are still years off. And as someone who's seen things change in part due to your efforts, what can you tell us about how change takes shape? Do you have to be patient? What do you need?
JUDY HEUMANN Patience is not something that I believe in. A common message that people were putting forth at Sundance is why didn't we know this story. And I finally said, you didn't know this story because you didn't want to know this story. You didn't know what to do with this story. So if you're really moved by this, then you need to do something about it. You need to learn about what your field is and how disability needs to be integrated. We're at a period of time where we are going to have to fight for our rights. We also have to fight against what the hell is going on in Oregon with federal intervention, and it's very scary. We need to be a part of it, of a movement that believes that we all need to make change.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Judy, thank you very much.
JUDY HEUMANN Thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Judy Heumann is the author of Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist. And she's the subject of a new Netflix documentary called Crip Camp.
BOB GARFIELD That's it for this week's show. On the Media is produced by Alana Casanova-Burgess, Micah Loewinger, Leah Feder, Jon Hanrahan, Xandra Ellin, and Eloise Blondiau. With more help from Eleanor Nash. Our technical director is Jennifer Munsen, our engineer this week was Josh Hahn.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Katya Rogers is our executive producer. On The Media, is a production of WNYC Studios. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD And I'm Bob Garfield