Welcome to the Jungle: America After Vietnam
                                       AP US History 2007

Raymond Tsia

Author's Bio

None Provided

     The very first sentence of Joseph Shapiro's book, No Pity, states: "Non disabled Americans do not understand disabled ones."1 With the number of disabled Americans rising, the voice of disabled Americans grows stronger. The rise of the disabled is not due to an increase in accidents or crippling diseases, but the advancement in medicine allowing people to continue to live despite horrific accidents or previously life-threatening diseases. Along side new advancements in technology are new civil rights protections, increasing public consciousness, and the swelling desire of disabled Americans to become integrated into an ordinary lifestyle (i.e. jobs, entertainment, etc.) Joseph Shapiro explores the conflicts and misunderstandings between disabled and non-disabled Americans ĘC the struggle that is increasingly becoming a politically active topic.
     The books title is clearly addressed in the first chapter "Tiny Tims, Supercrips, and the End of Pity." The poster child as seen on fundraiser posters is often a helpless looking child, tugging on the hearts of onlookers to aid in the effort of the disabilities rights movement. The growing number of disabled Americans, numbering from 35 million to 43 million have increasingly coming out of the shadows and trying to live a normal life. With the poster child, the idea of accepting or denying being disabled came into question. The image of disabled people has taken a blow. It's not longer acceptable to be disabled. This message is what campaigns in the 1940s and 1950s depicted. Disabled people were to be pitied, like the helpless child on the poster. During the 1950s however, a shift in tone occurred. No longer did posters depict children helpless, begging for money in hopes of a cure, but they depicted children "trying to walk."2 This idea that disabled people had to try hard or accomplish amazing feats in order to be worth money and the publics respect became widely accepted. Just as other minorities, disabled Americans are discriminated against specifically in the competition for employment. Hiding a disability becomes the only way for a disabled person to increase their opportunities. In John Hockenberry's case, as the National Public Radio's West Coast correspondent, he was confined to a wheelchair as a paraplegic. He was able to cover events such as Mt. Saint Helens' eruption, and political races. However, "had [his bosses and colleagues] known of his disability, Hockenberry almost certainly never would have been given such challenging assignments. It would have been assumed that he was not able to cover them."3 Despite crippling disabilities, disabled Americans are learning to cope with them. Ed Roberts revolutionized the disabilities rights movement as a student at Berkeley. With government approval and support from the university, he set up the PDSP, the Physically Disabled Students' Program. This program aided disabled students to live independently. These beginnings at Berkeley helped influence the passage of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act. In the 1980's children affected by it began a period of disability activism. This generation helped spur the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), possibly the most important disability rights victory yet.
     In 1988, the Gallaudet University student revolt against "insensitive" handling of disabled students by the non disabled was a crucial moment in the disability rights movement.4 The level of which the Gallaudet campus takeover raised public awareness allowed the for the passage of the ADA, which was introduced two months following Gallaudet, to pass. The Gallaudet issue arose when a decision was to be made of whether a deaf or hearing person should become the next president of the school. The current president at the time, Jerry Lee, announced his intention to leave office, causing a furry of attention focused on the identity of the next president. The Gallaudet search committee, overlooking the list of potential candidates, agreed that "to be deaf...was to struggle constantly against the low expectations of the hearing world."5 It would only make sense, in response to this, that the school has a deaf president, fully capable of the tasks given to a hearing president. Even within the school, discrimination seemed to be evident within the deaf community. There were those who had complete hearing loss, while there were those with a level of hearing loss that could be helped with the use of hearing aides. These two groups formed cliques not often associated with one another. Gallaudet helped to open the eyes of the public to the struggle of disabled Americans trying to become integrated citizens. No longer were disabled people accepting the role of the victim, they sought civil rights protections in the form of the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, the act did not guarantee disabled Americans of the results and affirmative action they hoped for. The act was in response to the desire to attain an even playing field for disabled Americans to achieve. With a new powerful group of disabled people, their families, politicians, and disability professionals, Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990. Although the passage of the ADA meant the decrease of exclusion, in turn job opportunities and better integration in American life, it still left non-disabled Americans with little or no understanding of disabled Americans.
     Despite the passage of the ADA, most disabled Americans still found integration hard. The exclusion to disabled people is not only an issue of accessibility, but also one of segregation. Stereotypes and assumptions stemming from segregation are harmful to disabled people. Throughout history, these assumptions that disabled people didn't go to school with regular kids because they weren't able to learn, or that disabled people didn't work with other normal people because they were unable to complete the same tasks, have kept the disabled from believing themselves that they are able. Disabled Americans are forced to take "jobs" set up by charities, paying them very low wages because of blindness, cerebral palsy, and other disabilities. These "sheltered workshops" don't teach the real skills needed to succeed at real jobs.6 Instead they separate and isolate the disabled keeping them from truly being integrated into society. With the existence of alternative programs for disabled people, segregation will exist alongside non-disabled people's misunderstanding of the disabled. The need for self-advocacy has spawned groups such as People First and the Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit (ADAPT). These civil rights groups used civil disobedience in protest. In order to have a larger voice, disability groups have joined with people with retardation. A major barrier between non-disabled people and the disabled was the wheelchair. The traditional wheel chair weighed over fifty pounds and was large and boxy. It made it difficult for the disabled to move around and even created a wall between the two sides. Instead, the very active and impatient Marilyn Hamilton, who had just become a paraplegic after her hang glider crashed, asked her fellow hang glider pilots to help her create a smaller, lighter wheelchair. Soon, the light and nimble wheelchairs were being sold. Soon, Hamilton's first ultra-light wheelchair was being produced in bright colors, creating comfort as opposed to the dreary metal of hospital-grade wheelchairs. "Screaming neon chairs" as Hamilton called them became a revolutionary item for disabled people.7 The number of wheelchair users increased from half a million in the 1960s to 1.2 million in the 1980s. With the growing use of wheelchairs came the need for more independence. This meant that disabled people demanded more accessibility for their wheel chairs including curb cuts, handicapped parking spaces, and bus lifts. Hamilton's Screaming neon chairs helped emphasize that being disabled was not something to be ashamed of. Nursing homes are seen as concentration camps to disabled people. This has lead to the nursing home reform movement. Horrible conditions and ill treatment for people with mental illnesses or retardation caused nursing homes to become the last resort. Instead of nursing homes, disabled people could live better off with social service support.
     Although many disabled people are able to live full and accomplished lives, others are unable to do so. Larry McAfee, at thirty-four years old, became a quadriplegic after a horrible motorcycle accident in the mountains of Georgia. Due to his injuries, McAfee's lungs and air sacks collapsed, forcing him to breath through a respirator. Every simple task required aid from a machine or another person. Living in such a state compelled McAfee to seek a lawyer, hoping to find a legal way to end his own life. The case made its way to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Edward Johnson. Soon a bedside court hearing took place at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. Inside the Intensive Care Unit, McAfee told the judge that his living conditions were "intolerable" and that "Everyday when [he] woke up there [was] nothing to look forward to."8 McAfee had already devised a device and plan by which to commit suicide. Many stories such as this are becoming more common as the number of people surviving horrible accidents increases. Doctors are able to save eight thousand people who become paralyzed every year. This staggering number explains the 250,000 living survivors of spinal cord injuries in the United States. Many of these disabled people experience severe depression. His problems soon stacked up when his million-dollar insurance money ran out and McAfee had to find work. Once again forced to live at the ICU on a respirator, the decision to end his life seemed eminent. However, on July 11, McAfee finally gave in and moved to a group home in Augusta. With new technology at his aide, McAfee found life more accessible and described his life as "good."9 Tolerance is an important step in integration. Understanding of disabled people is the most important thing Americans can learn to help the disabled community. When disabled people assert their rights and try to pass new laws, clashes due to misunderstanding are all too common. In the case of New York's plan to install public outdoor toilets, the inability of women and disabled people to utilize the new public service angered them to the point of protesting exclusion. A Wall Street Journal editorial however, scolded them for "putting the narrow self interests of a small number of wheelchair users above the common good of the far greater number of able-bodied people who could use the inaccessible toilets." 9 However, in July of 1992, with the last title of the ADA going into effect, the city placed three wheelchair-accessible toilets beside the normal ones. Disabled people have increasingly becoming angry at the discrimination they experience. All they ask is for "common respect and the opportunity to build bonds to their communities as fully accepted participants in everyday life."10 A wave of Justice Department suits ensued with the ADA forcing many companies and corporations to make concessions or create things more accessible. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also helped to level out the disputes over jobs. The EEOC mandates that jobs be regulated by the ADA's job protection, enabling disabled people to live in a workplace that treats them fairly.
     Joseph Shapiro wrote No Pity in an attempt to bring to light the struggle disabled people made to attain what they have achieved today. From the passage of the ADA to many other disability rights laws, the disabled community now enjoys much more freedom than before. Shapiro shines the spotlight on the non-disabled community at which his book is targeted. He points out the major obstacle for disabled people is the non disabled community. The rift of misunderstanding that causes stereotypes and in turn, unequal treatment is what drove the disability rights movement into motion. Shapiro emphasizes the need for integration into society. The fact that someone is disabled doesn't mean they lack an ability or skill. Every person has a different skill that they should be able to develop and contribute in a "fair society that values the talents of all."11 Just as positions on a football team are delegated by skill in a certain area, so too is the workplace. Disabled people only ask for the opportunities to develop their strengths.
     Dawn Gibeau of the National Catholic Reporter writes of the significance of the book in emphasizing the much-needed publication of the disability rights movement. In such a time where civil rights seem to be taken for granted, there are very visible examples of exclusion for paraplegics and quadriplegics. The article also mentions its relevance to church attendees who "proclaim that all are equal in the Lord's sight."12 The Journal of Rehabilitation describes Shapiro's book as "help[ing] us to understand" just as "it is for persons who are not of minority ethnic/racial background to fathom the perspectives of those who are."13 No Pity is said to combine the personal with the public issues of disability, helping the non-disabled community to further understand the troubles and hardships disabled Americans face.
     The book truly characterizes the Disability Rights movement. Shapiro uses many vignettes to describe the troubles and accomplishments of various disabled people. These stories help non-disabled people to see through the eyes of a disabled person. The obvious obstacles such as a flight of stairs to get to work are not the only issues covered. The stereotypes and social exclusion that comes along with being disabled are also clearly discussed. Shapiro discusses the active nature of the movement and of the people "making a claim to rights."14 He gives an unbiased view of the now very large civil rights movement driven by the growing number of disabled peoples fighting discrimination and even segregation in a society that has already fought the same issues throughout its history.
     Shapiro's book predominately covers the period of time in the 1980s when disability rights began to gain momentum to the early 1990s when the effects of the ADA and other civil rights legislation came into effect. He draws on the change of attitudes from that of pity to being unashamed of being disabled, taking "a stand for equality, independence, and dignity."15 Politicians became increasingly involved in disability rights with the amount of activism growing. The need for special programs for protection or aid required the help of the government. Such activism has been shaping society in the way we view and treat the disabled.
     The disability rights movement marked a time equal to that of the first civil rights movement that lead to the civil rights act of 1965. The movement is highly acknowledged as a revolutionary time for people with any type of disability may it be physical or mental. Education about disability has greatly increased helping to do away with stereotypical views and social bondage, or often times "crude bigotry" as Shapiro notes, of the disabled.16
     Activism for equal rights and opportunities has lead to great improvements for the lives of disabled Americans. From the workplace to daily living, things have been made easier. Accessibility is now required. The ever-growing numbers of disabled people are able to integrate themselves into society, not as outcasts, but as citizens contributing their share of positive influence "as fully accepted participants in everyday life."17


1. Shapiro, Joseph. No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement. New York, New York: Three Rivers Press, 1993, 3. 2. Shapiro, Joseph. 15. 3. Shapiro, Joseph. 19. 4. Shapiro, Joseph. 73. 5. Shapiro, Joseph. 73. 6. Shapiro, Joseph. 143. 7. Shapiro, Joseph. 212. 8. Shapiro, Joseph. 259. 9. Shapiro, Joseph. 322 (epilogue). 10. Shapiro, Joseph. 332 (epilogue). 11. Shapiro, Joseph. 339 (postscript). 12. Gibeau, Dawn. "No Pity. ĘCBook Reviews." National Catholic Reporter. February 3, 1995. 13. "No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement." Journal of Rehabilitation, July-Sept, 1993. 14. Shapiro, Joseph. 332 (epilogue). 15. Shapiro, Joseph. 40. 16. Shapiro, Joseph. 25. 17. Shapiro, Joseph. 332 (epilogue).

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