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No pity: people with disabilities forging a new civil rights movement.

Summer is a time for reading and to me there's nothing like a good book, and what better time to read than at the beach or the mountains. Unfortunately, I was at neither the beach nor the mountains, but on a plane. Nevertheless, I still found an incredibly good read, or rather, it found me. One of the few perks of being a journal editor is receiving books for review, which I generally forward to our Book Review Editor, Keith Byrd. However, this time I was so intrigued by the title that I decided to keep the book and read it myself. I know that the Editor's Comment column is a somewhat unusual place for a book review, but as all of you know by now, I don't always do things in a conventional way, so here goes.

No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement is a riveting account of the personalities and process leading to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Not since Branch Taylor's Parting the Waters have I been so involved with a work of non-fiction. Perhaps it was because No Pity's subject matter involved my professional work or perhaps it was because I am familiar with so many of the names. More likely, it was due to the fact that No Pity was so well written that I found the book difficult to put down once I started.

Joseph Shapiro, author of No Pity, points out that it is very difficult for persons who are temporarily able-bodied to really understand persons who have disabilities, just as it is for persons who are not of minority ethnic/racial background to fathom the perspectives of those who are. But understand we must as persons with disabilities, as professionals in rehabilitation, and as part of a nation dedicated to justice and equality of its citizenry. No Pity helps us to understand. No Pity documents a change in the way that persons with disabilities perceive themselves and by extension, the world about them. It is a change in "mindset" and identity that will revolutionize America and the world. Shapiro calls this change a "radical transformation" which has yet to manifest itself fully in American life.

No Pity is immensely readable because it intertwines the personal with the public. These are the stories of Marilyn Hamilton, Ed Roberts, and Larry McAfee, but also the stories of major events such as the protests at Gallaudet and the demonstrations of ADAPT. There are vignettes of history with Alexander Graham Bell and how the Jacuzzi was invented as an attempt to provide relief from the pain of arthritis. The ten chapters document the personal and public struggle of self determination, frustration, anger, and victory.

This is a book for persons who may have disabilities and for those of us who work with persons with disabilities. Practitioner, consumer, administrator, or educator will benefit from reading No Pity.

No Pity is far from perfect. I'm sure that every individual reading it may have heard or observed something a little different from the account in the book. I suppose that each of us can quibble some about personalities and the events and their interpretation, but these are minor.

The major drawback of No Pity is poor editing. That is particularly unfortunate for an otherwise excellent book. The editing not only detracts, but limits the usefulness of the book as a resource in academic and educational settings. Several times, Shapiro draws attention to studies that have been done, but they were not found in the reference section. In addition, the indexing was perplexing. I could not tell why certain entries were included other than they were mentioned on the page in question.

In spite of this, I would still recommend No Pity as an important resource for all of us in rehabilitation and anyone who has an interest in the disability movement. First, you will enjoy it and second, No Pity provides a basis for understanding the personal and societal context of persons with disabilities. As Shapiro explains in the introduction, No Pity is an attempt to explain, "to nondisabled people as well as to many disabled ones, how the world and self perceptions of disabled people are changing." It looks at the rise of "the new thinking by disabled people that there is no pity or tragedy in disability, and that it is society's myths, fears, and stereotypes that most make being disabled difficult." Joseph Shapiro has done all of us a favor in documenting the civil rights struggle of persons with disabilities. Our collective responsibility is to incorporate these ideas and concepts into all of our lives and our total society.

I was also fortunate to have access to the advance proofs of an upcoming book by architectural historian and photographer William L. Lebovich, entitled Design for Dignity: Accessible Environments for People with Disabilities, John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, 245 pp., approx. $50. Nothing works as well as concrete examples and this volume is full of them--from private homes, theatre, and museums to the Nation's Capitol, the Vice President's home, and the Orioles Park at Camden Yards. Though the primary focus is on architectural design, the book emphasizes that accessibility involves at least three things: improving physical access, having good communication, and a positive attitude. Each chapter portrays a specific structure with pictures and a brief explanation. This is an excellent resource about accessibility, especially for those who would question aesthetics and costs. The only drawback for me is that Design seems limited to the east coast and primarily the Washington, DC area.

I would also like to call to your attention the special feature related to the concept of universal design. The bibliographic material was compiled by Dale Brown and Jon Vargo of the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, and I believe that it should be available to the widest possible audience.
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Author:Shapiro, Joseph P.
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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