A man born without legs recounts his struggle to accept his disability and the misperceptions of others.
When debut author Glowacki entered the world in 1973, he lacked lower limbs, to the great surprise of both his parents and doctor. As a child, he didn’t often feel hindered by this, as he could get around quite agilely atop a skateboard. However, doctors persistently recommended the use of prosthetics, which they believed would provide him with greater mobility and, as a consequence, give him a more “normal” life. But artificial legs were heavy, uncomfortable, and awkward—more a burden than a boon, the author felt; he saw them as an impediment to independence. He discovered that a wheelchair was much more convenient than prosthetics, and he chose it as his chief instrument of conveyance even though both his parents and doctors tried to dissuade him. Glowacki experienced an even greater sense of emancipation when, for his 16th birthday, his parents gifted him the family’s minivan. He refused to see himself as disabled, although he was constantly seen as such by others, and he found that he was often held to a different, lower standard of conduct—a phenomenon that he calls “Disability Privilege.” When he went to the University of Wisconsin in the 1990s, he benefited from the campus’ extraordinarily generous accommodations and disability services but was also discomfited by the excess of assistance, which seemed to incentivize others to hide within the school’s cocoon of safety. Although the memoir largely follows a linear, chronological history, it’s structured more as a series of meditations thematically clustered around the author’s efforts to come to terms with his disability and with what he sees as the condescension of low expectations.
Glowacki writes with impressive clarity and candor, unguardedly discussing the ways in which he used the fact that he was disabled to his benefit and how this strategy ultimately backfired: “Many times, my disability has served me as a shield from the consequences of my actions, people not holding me to the same standard of behavior to which they hold able-bodied people.” Although this may “sound like an advantage in many situations,” he says, it has also led to him losing friends. Still, he’s never spiteful when criticizing the misconceptions of others, and he even takes himself to task for his own ill-considered presumptions. The author’s approach occasionally flirts with didacticism—chapters conclude with a “point to ponder,” meant to aid the reader’s reflections. But Glowacki’s thoughtfulness amply compensates for the book’s minor flaws; at one point, for example, he’s grateful that the technology to detect his disability prenatally didn’t exist before he was born, freeing his parents of the burden of a grim decision. Further, the author intelligently discusses the sea change ushered in by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a law that effectively remade the country for many disabled people, rendering it considerably more hospitable for those with mobility impairments.
A perceptive discussion of disability and bias.