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My Body Politic: A Memoir Paperback – January 23, 2007
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The idea of having some kind of normal life was not even a consideration for me. Just breathing and existing; in an odd sort of way a kind of Zen "being in the moment," was all I could achieve. And it was NOT a form of enlightenment; on the contrary, it was an "indarkenment."
So I might not recommend this book for the newly injured. It is possible that it would not make sense, even if the newly injured person were able to read. For someone who is past that first shock and confusion, though, this could be very helpful. It is clear in pointing out that there are as many different people with a SCI as there are people without one. Very clear and helpful in pointing out the main directions which are still available for people with a SCI. Get this book for someone you love, but don't push it. Just make sure it is available and, when the person is really ready, it will be there for them.
"My Body Politic" is more than an account of one person's struggle to overcome disability. Simi Linton writes a memoir that clues you in early that she is an individual who is not afraid to challenge authority. Whether she is talking about her country at war, or a friend being told his homosexuality is a disease, or curb cuts, the personal is political.
I was reading a passage of the book on a pier in lower Manhattan close to the anniversary of 9/11. Nearby, I overheard a mother tell her son, who was about 10 years old, "That's where the World Trade Center used to be." She talked about the plane deliberately crashing into it and the fire, and the buildings collapsing to the ground. After the boy did a handstand and skipped off, I wondered what effect the mother's lesson had on him. In that moment I understood what Linton was saying throughout her book, "My Body Politic." The title says it all: a life active for change.
One generation rarely understands, much less appreciates, what previous generations have endured and fought for so the present generation can enjoy the rights and privileges they do. One of the recurring points Linton makes is that many of the privileges enjoyed by the disabled today are not due to the largess of a caring public. Quite the contrary; they are the result of political leadership, and hard fought legislative and court battles.
For example, it was President Kennedy who advocated for research into the prevention and treatment of intellectual disability, and for expanding Social Security benefits for the disabled in 1961. Twenty years later, the Rehabilitation Act, Section 504 (that went into effect in 1973) required colleges, or any organization, that receives Federal funding to make their programs and facilities accessible to students with disabilities. Public Law 94-142 (passed in 1975 and codified as IDEA -- the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) mandates a free and appropriate education for all children with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. It is legislation enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Dept. of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Dept. of Justice (DOJ). In 1999, the Supreme Court upheld provisions of the ADA, in Olmstead, affirming the right of individuals to live in their community, even requiring states to place individuals with mental disabilities in community settings rather than institutions. Linton notes that recent Supreme Court rulings narrowing the definition of "disability" have, in fact, watered down the effectiveness of the ADA. Today, budget cuts in virtually every state threaten the supports and services "enjoyed" by the disabled. Adaptive technology, for example, is expensive. Will homeowners pay an extra dollar a year in property taxes so that Judy can have her augmentative communication device-equipped wheelchair? Would the wealthy pay one half of one percent more in income tax for her? Too often, the answer is "no."
Curb cuts are not universal; nor are accessible bathrooms. The next time you walk down a street, be conscious of whether or not a person in a wheelchair could actually navigate the sidewalk to get to the grocery store, the pharmacy, work. When you are in a restaurant, notice whether or not you have to walk down stairs to get to the bathroom and, once there, if the door is wide enough for a person in a wheelchair to get through. Then, once inside, would the person actually be able to maneuver into a stall and use the facilities? Too often, the answer to these questions is, "no."
One of the unique aspects of "My Body Politic" is Linton's ability to share the fears and frustrations she has confronted every day since her accident, to describe her mundane tasks in such excruciating detail that she helps the reader better understand --and feel-- her story. People often comment that the disabled are "so brave" because they know they couldn't be. Of course, everyone knows themselves... until they are confronted with tragedy and find out differently. Linton overcomes her disability because she must; living her life active for change is a choice which we can all applaud.