Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement

Posted by nliakos on August 9, 2014

by Joseph P. Shapiro (Random House/Times Books 1993)

No Pity tells the story of the disability rights movement. It introduces the reader to the heroes of this movement, such as Ed Roberts, who refused to accept no for an answer at the University of California Berkeley; Judy Heumann, who became a disability activist when she was denied a teaching job for which she was well-qualified; T. J. Monroe, who organized fellow people with mental retardation to stand up for their rights as members of People First; and Jim (no last name given), perhaps the original inspiration for the author’s interest in and passion for the fight for equal opportunities, whose slowness of speech belied his talent for all things mechanical, so he lived most of his life in an institution; and many more. Shapiro includes post-polio quadriplegics and paraplegics and disabled veterans; people with developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, and ALS; people who require a respirator to breathe; people who are deaf or blind. . . . in short, people with all kinds of disabilities, major and minor. He tells the story of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). He reveals the surprising statistic that one in seven Americans has a disability; they and their relatives and friends constitute a population that includes poor people and rich people; people in power (including presidents, legislators. . .) and people without any power at all; people of all races, religions, and ages; people who were born disabled and people who became disabled later in life due to disease, accidental injury, or war-related injury. This book shows how many smaller rights movements merged to create the disability rights movement.

Shapiro took events that I remember, like the battle for a deaf president of Gallaudet University in 1988, and put them into a larger context. My daughter, born very premature in 1992 and considered to be on the autism spectrum, has benefited in many ways from the advances described by Shapiro in this book; yet I did not realize how recent some of them were. My perspective as the parent of a person with disabilities led me to question some of the ideas in the book, such as the idea that “even children with the most severe disabilities learn better in integrated settings” (p. 168). But I don’t want to quibble, because this is an important book, one we should all read, because it reminds us all of our shared humanity.

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