"No Apologies" conveys the outlook of an emerging generation of people with disabilities who are working to fashion for themselves a new social identity.
Largely a collection of brief autobiographical accounts, it avoids the saccharine tendencies typical of such memoirs. Instead, it is honest, realistic, often indignant.
Political scientist William Roth's introduction concisely expresses three essential features of the new perspective that underlies the book:
The new generation redefines the major problems of disabled people as social, not medical, as located in societal attitudes and arrangements rather than their own bodies. "Like women, blacks, and Hispanics," writes Roth, "people with disabilities are an oppressed minority . . . a group upon whom fundamental injustices have been perpetrated."
The new generation also claims as a right, full and equal access to society. They want, says Roth, "a world where we are not locked in or out," physically or socially.
Third, they take pride in themselves as disabled persons. Again Roth: " . . . we who are disabled need not apologize for our existence, our rights, our needs, our contributions, our love, our independence, our citizenship, our humanity."
The contributors recount their battles for independent living, education, and work, the financial and emotional costs of inaccessibility and discrimination, the humiliation of nondisabled paternalism, the struggle for self-esteem in a society that devalues them.
Growing up in such a social situation, how does one achieve adulthood? How does one come to feel sexually and romantically attractive? Karen Malkin recalls that other girls complained about their mothers' pestering questions regarding boyfriends. She longed for her mother to ask such questions, to push her to date, as a way of validating "that I was a woman . . . and that I was desirable."
Blocked by discrimination, how does one get an education or build a career? Phyllis Rubenfeld reports her feisty reaction to a college dean who told her, "People like you who can't raise your arms shouldn't go to college." Later she fought a rehabilitation counselor who said she could not become a social worker "because you can't jump."
Inevitably, the quality of the various accounts is uneven. But, collectively, they offer a role model for disabled people and their families that is refreshingly forthright about the social obstacles to living with disability.
Unfortunately, as is often the case in the disability rights movement, deaf, blind and mentally retarded people and people of color are underrepresented in this book.
"No Apologies" offers helpful advice to parents of disabled children. It includes lists of disability organizations and a basic bibliography. It supplies useful tips on securing educational rights, finding resources, getting a job, and other matters. Information on dealing with government work disincentives would have greatly enhanced its value.
More than "a survival guide," "No Apologies" is a document in the struggle of people with disabilities to redefine themselves and their place in society.