Customer Reviews: No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement
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on November 6, 1999
As a deaf person and an educator, I find myself very involved whether I like it or not in being an activist. I was taking a law class on disability law, and the second footnote in the required text was on this book. That intrigued me, and when I read the reviews about the book, I was even more intrigued. This book is a must-read for anyone who might or does work with the disabled. We no longer want the pity, the institutions, and the exclusion from society. We want to be viewed as normal except with one part or a few parts that may not function as some would consider normal. We want an equal education, equal opportunity to jobs, equal opportunities to participate in society. And everyone will be the better for it. Mr Shapiro as a non-disabled person, wrote a book that was compassionate but strived hard to see things from our point of view. This ability probably stands him in good stead as a journalist. He even taught me things I didn't know about other disabilities. Educators, lawyers, politicians, parents, social workers, and health care professionals need to get off their duff and read this book. They can no longer turn a blind eye or claim ignorance as an excuse to not allowing those of us with differences our rights under the law.
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on December 27, 2003
In regards to the review by Cindy Heilman below, it is apparent that you missed a major point of this book. When you state that "Neither the disabled, homosexuals, nor adoptees are the target of lynching, Jim Crow laws, fire engine hosing, or vicious police dogs."
You must have missed the disability history about Nazi death camps, false imprisonments in institutions, forced sterilization, abuse by caregivers, death by neglect, murder of those with mental disabilities thought to be under demonic controls, murder of disabled children in underdeveloped countries, the list goes on and on. I'm not an expert on the experiences of gays and adoptees, but as far as seems they face some of the most violent crimes that helped institute hate crime statutes. The history of African-Americans has been tragic and an embarrassment for our country, but they are certainly not alone in facing hatred and violent discrimination.
As for your statement regarding the difference in abilities justifies unequal treatment, you are missing the point that we all have differing abilities and must find ways to use our assets to contribute to society and accommodate our weaknesses. This holds true for any college student who has picked a major that accommodates their strengths while downplaying their weaknesses or any member of any sports team who picks the position that will give the team the best advantage. Disabled people are not asking for unfair advantages, they are asking for equal access. A level playing field. The same opportunities to build on their strengths and contribute to the society that has blocked them out. Even under horrendous Jim Crow Laws, African-Americans were sometimes allowed to go into the back of a restuarant and be served. People with disabilities aren't even allowed to the resturant door sometimes. Although their is a uniqueness to some of the issues surrounding disability, the civil rights aspect of amicus and access are exactly the same.
Read "Make them go away" by Mary Johnson for a more straightforward, updated essay on this situation if you still don't understand.
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on December 16, 1999
Four years ago this book was part of a class taught by James McLeskey that changed my life. Because this book is so well written, and because it time after time moved me into zones of cognitive dissonance about what I knew and about what I believed, it had the effect of making me incredibly uncomfortable about my own unrecognized prejuidaces concerning folks with disabilities. As Shapiro says, it is the only minority group which we can join at any time, and the older we live, the more likely we are to acquire disabilities. I currently teach classes about inclusion of students with special needs in general education classrooms, and this book has received rave reviews from many students and made many others angry. As a teacher hoping to open space for questioning, that's exactly what I want in a book.
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on November 24, 2003
My perception has changed in ways immeasurable in regards to people with disabilities. Now, every single day I am aware of the small and large ways in which those with disabilities are discrimated against by temporarily able-bodied individuals. I am buying several copies to lend and give out, I hope others do the same.
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on November 15, 2006
The Essential Primer from a non-disabled person's view. The 1994 book covers history, policies, and the interdependence we have together.

Judy Heumann and Evan Kemp recommended this to me in 1990's, and my eyes were opened wide after I read it. Ch. 1 and Tinytimism (as I call it)applies to many groups. Some call it 'Uncle Tom','assimilationist', or other. 'No Pity' describes why the charity model is fatalistic and damaging. You can see this played out in the Congress about 'welfare', 'healthcare', Clint Eastwood's attack on the ADA, and 'special needs'.

Sorry folks - we just want what you think we have, but we don't really have it: civil, legal, accessible, culturally affirming human rights.

Even if you have a disability, it is vital to read the sections that you think you know- and definately read the ones you don't know. Anyone working in health care, Addiction, Mental Health, VA, CILS, advocacy for any disability related group should read this first.

My only regret was I didn't read it sooner.

Access is a civil right and an attitude, not just a ramp (TM)!
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on August 10, 2002
This book is written in an easy-to-read style by a journalist who has covered disability issues for many years. It explains how he came to see that disability is a civil rights issue, just like racial or sexual discrimination. And it provides a very interesting history of the American disability movement in particular.
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on November 27, 2008
Its important for anyone who wants to read about the disability rights movement that this is first book to read, even if one has a negative impression of it. The goal of the independent living movement as identified in the book is for full community integration for people with disabilities and complete civil rights and equal rights. Unfortunately when one reads about the disability rights movement, there is talk about "politically correct language", "burdensome lawsuits" and the like and I can't deny that these things happen (as with any movement there are extremists and people who focus on surface issues) but "No Pity" details the independent living movement starting with Ed Roberts (who had been paralyzed to the point where he required a respirator, then called an iron lung, his whole life) who founded the independent living movement from scratch and from there, there were networks of these centers and now they are a vital resource. And its not just linguistics but the thinking behind them, empowerment, integration and the idea that disability is ultimately a universal experience. And the important thing is for every negative experience you hear about you can read about workable constructive solutions, many of which save taxpayer's money and put people to work and most importantly people with disabilities being thought of not as "the other" but as people in general. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but if you have a negative impression of the disability rights movement why not read through "No Pity" and then post a review after as you'll have a fuller understanding. And as a disability rights activist myself and someone who has pushed for the Olmstead Decision, Mental Health Parity and the upcoming Community Choice Act whom many of the people discussed in here initiated (you can look up these terms for more information) you can see that the end goal is yet another civil rights movement with equality and social justice as the end goal and a community that people often eventually become a part of as disability is a universal experience. So take a fresh mindset, read this and know that much has been achieved and much remains to but often the first steps towards understanding people with disabilities must come from self acceptance and a willingness to understand new ideas. This primer will give you some key ideas and if you are a person with a disability yourself, in understanding the term "no pity" you may understand the essential empowering nature of the ever expanding freedoms that are part of America and want in whatever way you can contribute. A book that changed my life in real world terms and may do the same for others.
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on May 29, 2016
It's a place to start but you'll find contradictions both of fact and agenda in this book as well as in the field of disability studies as a whole. The movement doesn't seem to be cohesive even on paper- a movement in which there's not much common agreement on agenda or common goals or techniques to reach those goals- is it really a movement at all if there's no unity among those effected by it? Also found the book condescending in tone in many places. Wanted to like this volume but couldn't. Like many movements this one seems to exist only on paper and not anywhere else due to a lack of unity among people who could help each other if there wasn't such apathy- reflected in this book and others in disability studies as a whole.
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No Pity is a difficult book to discuss or review briefly. Joseph Shapiro, a journalist who has written extensively on the disability rights movement, gives us a sweeping look at the changes people with disabilities have experienced over the last several decades, both in terms of legal rights and the perceptions of others. Although much has changed since No Pity was published in 1993, Shapiro captures the biggest changes of the 20th century, especially leading up to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

One of the major themes of the book, whether Shapiro is talking about people with blindness, deafness, paraplegia, or other disabilities, is disability as identity. As the title implies, the disabled rights movement is a movement away from pity. The poster children of telethons, the sad fund-raising appeals, the billboards of some charities, all send the message that a disability is something to be cured, to be overcome. People with disabilities object to a message that they are less than whole, that they need fixing. To them, their disability is what makes them who they are.

Feelings run quite strong with many. Some object to efforts toward a cure. For instance, "many deaf people abhor [cochlear implants] as suggesting that deafness is a pathology, something to be corrected or eliminated." They view it as cultural murder, even genocide, of deaf culture. Some disability rights activists are even critical of injury prevention research, saying that "to prevent disability is to suggest there is something pejorative about it." Others object to very expensive technological means to assist in mobility, citing the low success rates in healing spinal cord injury and arguing that such expenditures should be used for the vast majority who can't be helped by advanced technology.

This perspective leaves me in a quandary. Like Shapiro and the subjects of his book, I want people with disabilities to be involved in society, to work, and to have opportunities to engage others, disabled or not. But is there not an objective sense in which to see is better than not to see? To hear is better than not to hear? To walk is better than not to be able to walk? I don't mean to imply that one who can see, hear, or walk is better than one who can't. But if I were to lose my sight or hearing, I would certainly like to regain it. On a personal level, my daughter has an array of disabilities, including difficulty walking, inability to speak, etc. I know, as many individuals with disabilities would agree, that her disabilities have made her who she is, and I do love who she is. But wouldn't it be great if she could sing, talk to her friends, eat normal food, and run around and play like her peers do? Shapiro quotes people who say something like, If you could wave a magic wand and take away my disability, I would refuse that, because this is who I am. But if I could wave a magic wand and take away my daughter's disabilities, I would do it. Again, don't get me wrong. I don't love her less, or think she's less of a person. I simply acknowledge that she has barriers in her life; if I could remove those barriers, I would.

As I mentioned, Shapiro covers the disability rights movement up to and including the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many people who have grown up seeing curb cuts, wheelchair ramps, kneeling buses, and other accommodations don't realize the extent to which the ADA changed the way disabled people are treated and viewed in the U.S. There's still room for improvement, to be sure, even 20 years after its passage, but the ADA has done much to improve life for people with disabilities. I do have to admit the libertarian in me and the parent of a disabled child in me have argued about the application of the ADA. One doesn't have to look far for seemingly silly applications of the law, and in many cases a conflict between property rights and disability rights comes into play. Unlike the Civil Rights Act, to which ADA is compared, property owners seeking to fulfill ADA requirements often must incur a material expense. In some cases, it's quite small, but in plenty of cases the costs for a restaurant, retail store, or office can be substantial. On this, the struggle between the rights of the disabled and the rights of property owners, I am torn.

The stories of the movements and individuals in No Pity will move you, inform you, and inspire you to look at the world through the eyes of people with disabilities. Shapiro does not hold back from making the reader uncomfortable, yet fills each chapter with hope and optimism by showing how far we as a society have come.

Shortly after I finished reading No Pity, I saw an inspiring article in the Star-Telegram by Sean Pevsner, a disability rights lawyer with severe cerebral palsy. His attitude exemplifies Shapiro's perspective: "Disabilities are not something that people should fight to overcome, but a part of what makes them who they are. Our minds are the only things that limit us." Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 3/5/12.
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on June 8, 2013
Yes, it's really old (published in 1994). And yes, some of the facts are out of date. (I can only attest to the autism section on that part, given that autism is the disorder I know most about, but that part was really factually out of date...our knowledge of autism has hugely changed since 1994.) That said, what I read this book for wasn't to learn facts so much as to gain a different perspective and a sense of history with regards to the disability rights movement. And WOW did this book deliver. Highly recommended.
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