An eye-opening collection of stories “about discrimination against individual people with disabilities and about exclusion of the group.”
Justesen settled in Chicago in 2014 after a career in Denmark as a human rights lawyer advocating for physically and mentally disabled men and women. Almost all the case studies here derive from oral histories she compiled in Chicago, inspired in part by the work of Studs Terkel. As the author shows, disabilities stretch far beyond those that are visible, such as blindness or the use of a wheelchair. Many of the disabilities of those she profiles may not be immediately apparent or constitute a condition generally outside widespread societal consciousness—e.g., deafness, autism, diabetes, dwarfism, severe arthritis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, depression, and more. For Justesen, negative treatment of individuals with disabilities constitutes a human rights violation. Throughout the text, she amplifies the repeated pleas of her interviewees: Please don’t treat me as a person to be pitied or as someone who cannot perform a high-level job; please don’t tease me or bully me, and please don’t pretend I am invisible when you encounter me. The book suggests that people of color who are disabled are often treated worse than white men and women. Justesen wisely includes oral histories of her subject’s paid caretakers as well as family members. As she clearly shows, poor treatment of the disabled yields negative ripple effects throughout society. The author opens the collection by illuminating the anger displayed by those who feel that they are considered “less than.” In the next section, Justesen explains the reality of disability entering the realm of “social construct,” akin to discrimination based on skin color or gender orientation. “Disability is not miserable,” she writes. “But not being regarded, not being respected, being seen as less than, not being treated with dignity, all this is miserable. Barriers in the world can make living with a disability miserable.”
A mind-expanding collection of important stories.