Far from “helpless”: How the Disability Rights Movement saved my life

By NADINA LASPINA: For More Info, Go Here…

Everyone seemed to think that polio survivors like me were powerless. Discovering the opposite changed my life.

Adapted from “Such a Pretty Girl: A Story of Struggle, Empowerment, and Disability Pride” by Nadina LaSpina. Copyright 2019 New Village Press.

In the summer of 1971 I made a phone call that saved my life.

I had decided to reach out to some disabled friends, after a long period of lethargy and hopelessness, which followed the suicide of my best friend, Audrey. I had met Audrey at the Hospital for Special Surgery, when we were both thirteen, right after my father succeeded in bringing me and my mother from our native Sicily to the U.S. His hope was that here I would get the medical care I needed, since I had contracted polio as a baby.

Though Audrey’s disability — spina bifida — was different than mine, the effects of our disabilities on our bodies were much the same. So were the negative messages that came from all around us. Our lives were seen as tragedies, our futures held no promise of happiness, because of our disabilities, we weren’t considered “real” women, we would never know love… “Such pretty girls, what a shame,” they said, and Audrey swallowed their lies — together with sixty Seconals.

At the time, though, I didn’t know those were lies. For quite a while I thought she had done the right thing.

I must have been looking for a lifeline, without even realizing it, when I reached out to disabled friends I knew from various hospitals. Most of our conversations were brief; I made no effort to see any of them. But the call to my old friend Susie — who, like me, had had polio — was different. She told me about a meeting of disabled people she was planning to attend. I had never even heard of disabled people having meetings. Susie said the name of the organization holding the meeting was PRIDE, which was an acronym—it stood for “People for the Rehabilitation and the Independence of the Disabled through Education.” A mouthful. I liked the acronym better than the full name. What was this meeting about? Getting special parking permits, Susie told me, so we could park where other people couldn’t, like in “No Parking Anytime” zones.

“Far out,” I said.

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