An advocate for the rights of people with learning, physical or emotional disabilities takes a road trip in the vehicle that symbolizes the way we segregate those who are different.
Labeled as learning disabled in the third grade (he had attention deficit disorder and dyslexia), Mooney grew up riding the “short school bus…once used to take kids with disabilities to special ed programs.” He was a special-ed success story: Though unable to read until age12, he later graduated with honors in English from Brown University. But he didn’t want to be seen as someone who had “overcome” his disability and become “normal”; he traveled cross-country in one of those little yellow buses to declare his solidarity with members of the minority who ride in them and to offer some lessons for the rest of us. Learning disabled Brent lobbed paintballs at him in Albuquerque; deaf-blind Ashley cussed him out in sign language in Richmond. He met Cookie, a big guy who wore a blonde wig and a pink robe; sweet Katie, who had Down syndrome; bipolar Sara; and Asperger Jeff. All, Mooney insists, are singular people—though every one of them addresses him as “dude” and uses “man” as a form of conversational punctuation. (They’re also all given, at least in his account, to pronouncing wise aphorisms they’re unable to clarify.) As well as describing trips to Graceland and Burning Man, Mooney provides some social history of the efforts through eugenics and pseudoscience to “fix” or to set apart people who may be different. No one is precisely normal, he reminds us; that’s a statistical concept and a social construct.
The author speaks on these issues across the country, and his text occasionally sounds like a lecture. Nonetheless, this offers a heartfelt rebuke to rigid definitions of normality.