By Joseph P. Shapiro. New York: Times Books. 1993. Pp. ix, 372. $25.
Joseph Shapiro, a writer for U.S. News & World Report, starts his book, No Pity, with the line "Nondisabled Americans do not understand disabled ones" (p. 3). The sentence indirectly conveys the book's purpose: to tell the stories of disabled people in order to create a greater understanding of the needs of the disabled. Shapiro skillfully leads the reader to reject views of the disabled as pitiable "poster children" or heroic, inspirational "supercrips"(1) and, instead, to recognize them as "fully accepted participants in everyday life" (p. 332). Shapiro achieves this goal by relating the stories of those he interviewed during the five years he researched the book. In the process of showing that disabled people are entitled to equal rights, Shapiro describes the increase in their self-awareness and political awareness that led, in part, to Congress's passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)(2) in 1990.
In his book, Shapiro includes information gleaned from his interviews and adds explanatory and historical information. The book tells the stories of people such as Ed Roberts, whom others described as a "sickly |vegetable,'" and a "freak in a wheelchair" when he was a teenager (pp. 42- 43). His parents told him, based on what doctors, nurses, and counselors had said, that he would never "go to college, marry, or hold a job," and one doctor told his mother that it would have been "more humane . . . if the high fever of the polio had killed him quickly" (p. 42). Not to be deterred, however, Roberts fought to change the attitudes of others -- attitudes that held him back. Roberts and his equally determined mother persuaded the school board to award him his high school diploma, even though the principal had refused to do so because Roberts had not completed the physical education and driver's education requirements (p. 44). Next, he convinced officials at Berkeley to admit him, over the objection that "[w]e've tried cripples before and it didn't work" (p. 45). Roberts attended Berkeley and, in the process, helped establish programs to allow disabled persons to live independently. He "redefined independence as the control a disabled person had over his life" (p. 51). Independence, for Roberts, referred to "the quality of one's life with help" rather than the number of things a disabled person could do without assistance (p. 51).
The Americans with Disabilities Act covers persons with mental as well as physical disabilities;(3) Shapiro describes the rebellion of the former against being "treated as eternal children" (p. 185) who live in institutions and are told "what to eat, when to eat it, when to get up, where to live, where to work, when to watch TV, when to sleep" (p. 199). Shapiro focuses on T.J. Monroe, who is active in the self-advocacy movement for people with retardation.(4) Monroe spent twenty-three years in institutions, but, at the age of thirty-eight, he has his own apartment, a car, and a job as a veterinarian's assistant. President Bush invited him to the White House to witness the signing of the ADA, and many in the self-advocacy movement have called him a "hero" because of his charismatic speeches exhorting listeners to "make thunder" and "speak for their rights" (pp. 184, 192-93). Monroe, however, still feels lonely, and social workers occasionally come to his unkempt apartment to "|dig him out'" of the mess (pp. 193-94).
Shapiro devotes another chapter to "Jim,"(5) who escaped an institutional life only by knowing Shapiro.(6) Jim remained institutionalized at thirty because he had no one to act as his advocate (pp. 292-93). Doctors diagnosed him as "profoundly retarded" when he entered the...