No Pity, by Joseph Shapiro (book essay)

I was very moved, angered and motivated by this book. I couldn’t believe or didn’t want to believe that people with disabilities were treated this way, even though I, myself was hard of hearing since childhood, with mild loss in my right ear and moderate loss in my left ear. While reading this, I began to realize how many times that I had been mistreated and miss-represented. The perception of me was that I was slow, dumb, and an air-head. None of which were true.

In 1988, the author of No Pity, Joseph Shapiro, who starts out as a reporter, gets a lead on a story about a man who is to be honored as the National MS Society “Man of the Year”. Shapiro is not sure he even wants to do the story at first.

One day while visiting DC, Shapiro’s standing outside of his hotel waiting to catch a cab. He sees a young man in a suit and in a wheelchair that is also waiting for a cab. Two cabs arrive. The doorman signals for one cab to drive up and Shapiro hops in. Then the doorman signals for the second cab. While driving off, Shapiro looks back only to witness the second cab, a station wagon, moving up and then suddenly jerks the vehicle away and speeds off. It is apparent to Shapiro that the cab driver does not want to be bothered helping the man in a wheel chair.

Shapiro interviews Cindy Jones, a “Poster Child” for the March of Dimes. Jones remembers March of Dimes making her feel special, like Cinderella (as she recalls). She was fussed over and photographed.

Later when Jones goes to first grade, she recalls her school having posters for vaccinations promoting parents to vaccinate their children for polio.

The poster shows two images with This/Not This

THIS: two children running/playing in a field.

NOT THIS: Shows Jones in her pretty party dress leaning on her crutches.

 Jones recognizes herself and now realizes what the pictures were used for.

Jones remembers feeling embarrassed and invalid. Jones states, “The poster child says it’s not okay to be disabled. It plays on fears. It says, if you just donate some money, the disabled children will go away.”

Some felt that people with disabilities were somewhat less then human and fair game for victimization or assumed that they were not intelligent nor educated and were not entitled to make their own decisions or lead the life they chose.

• Like the private zoo owner who refused to admit children with retardation to the Monkey House, claiming they scared his chimpanzees.

• Or the restaurant owner who asked a women with cerebral palsy to leave because her different appearance was disturbing other diners.

• Or the Airline employee who tossed a sixty six year old double amputee on a baggage dolly, “like a sack of potatoes,” rather than help him into a wheelchair.

People with disabilities wanted to put a stop on images that represented them as pitiful, child-like and dependant. They wanted to put an end to this fear and the thinking that something was wrong with them. Whether they were born this way or not, it wasn’t their body’s functions and limitations that made them feel disabled, it was how OTHERS looked upon them with pity that made them feel different or inadequate.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing

The deaf and hard of hearing have also felt an exclusion from mainstream society.

• Aristotle, 355 BC
• Those born deaf are incapable of learning

• St. Augustine
• Deaf Children are a sign of sin

• Congressman, Washburn, 1860
• Higher education of the deaf is useless –

• Alexander Graham Bell, 1890
• The deaf are sometimes looked on as a sort of monstrosity,

Deaf student were not waiting on the world to change anymore. They took matters into their own hands.

In 1988, protest by deaf students at Gallaudet University was a defining moment for the disability rights movement. They screamed and signed “Deaf Power”. Deaf students demanded a deaf president for their school, and after 124 years, the university appointed their first deaf president, Dr. I. King Jordan.

Deaf people feel they have their own culture and their own language, ASL. Most deaf and hard of hearing people do not want to be considered disabled or handicapped. They don’t have a problem and don’t need to be fixed. They are proud to be deaf.

Rev Jesse Jackson – The problem is not that the students do not hear. The problem is that the hearing world does not listen –

During the civil rights movement, often times, black civil rights activist and freedom fighters supported the disability civil rights movement and visa-versa. They were fighting all the same issues and felt a common identity. The right to attend schools and colleges, the right to ride the bus and the right to be treated equal, no matter what.

One person expressed: “While blacks were fighting to ride the front of the bus, we were fighting to get on the bus.”


The Civil Rights bill was called for by President JFK in his civil rights speech in 1963, in which he asked for legislation “giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public and the right to vote.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, was signed by Lyndon B Johnson, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal.

By the 1970s, the introduction of curb cuts in the United States was pioneered by the disability rights movement and the value of curb cuts was promoted more strongly, however, was still often made on a voluntary basis.

Finally in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act , as defined by ADA, “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” was enacted by the U.S. Congress and was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush which also required that all curb cuts be present on all sidewalks.

Americans with disabilities are the nation’s LARGEST MINORITY group and one that any “non-disabled” person can enter at any time. Fewer than 15 percent of disabled Americans were born with their disability.

That last sentence should give anyone food for thought.

I highly recommend this book. It is written well with clarity and compassion.

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