Demystifying Disability – More than an ally

It’s my passion to move toward a more accepting, loving, equitable world. – Emily Ladau (pg. 74)

When I was sent the request to review Demystifying Disability by Emily Ladau, the publicity manager had no idea that this subject is VERY near-and-dear to my heart. She saw that I was a self-help book reviewer and wondered if I’d be interested in a subject that certainly dances around the edges of self-help but isn’t self-help, per se.

I was quick to write back and say that any book that helps people to communicate effectively with their fellow-humans is a “go” on this site!

Then, I explained that I come from a disabilities background… from WAY back. I shared a little bit about my work at the college… but it goes back further than that. Let me explain.

My grandfather was a doctor in a residential state hospital that originally housed “the feeble minded” (as they described it at the time) and others with different types of neurological (and concurrent physical) disorders. My grandfather was highly regarded by patients and doctors, alike. They called him, “Doc”. I called him, “Bappa”.

Bappa spent hours in his garage building leg braces and at his desk working on alternative healing modalities (vitamins, ultrasound, Chinese medicine, etc.) to help his patients. He lived and breathed helping people. ALL people.

When the slur of my childhood was being used – and is sadly *still* used – my grandfather explained that persons with “mental retardation” (now called neurodivergent or persons with developmental disabilities) were HUMAN BEINGS who deserved respect and care, just like anyone else.

“Never, EVER, use that word,” he’d warn.

He occasionally took my sister and me to the residential hospital grounds …

“See, they’re just living their lives, like everyone does,” he said.

I kept those lessons close to my heart.

Years went by, my grandfather retired, and the hospital closed.

(I have to stop here and say that I am – of course – aware of abuses that too-often occurred at the state hospital level. Had everyone had the heart of my grandfather, I believe those hospitals would have shared HIS legacy of compassion. Sadly, most do not. I hate bringing it up but it can’t be ignored.)

Bappa died the year before I had my first child. I so wish he had met my kids… especially my son, who wasn’t breathing when he was born.

My son brought back all the lessons Bappa taught me. They would have been such friends, my grandfather and my son, I know!

My son’s neurological disabilities taught me more about humanity (and myself) than I’d ever known otherwise. But this is not the time to go into that…

When I was in my early 30s, I fell into a job that changed my life – and my (then-7-year-old) son’s life, too.

I’d applied for a temporary job at the local community college…

… and stayed for ten years. 🙂

It was in DSPS – Disabled Students Programs & Services. I started out as a receptionist and ended up running the first Adaptive Computer Technology lab for students with disabilities.

It was – what I called – a “heart job”.

So, it will probably not surprise you to know that I thought about writing a book like Demystifying Disability myself. I remember hearing words like, “Wheelchair-bound” on the news and cringing, then thinking, “I need to write a book for these news folks! Yikes!”

I had it mapped out in my mind, with charts of “Say this, not that” and proper disability etiquette.

I never did it, obviously.

But Emily Ladau did, along with a whole bunch of other stuff… like the history of disability, the future of disability and… uh… yeah… everything in-between!

You know, I’ve read a lot of books about disability because I took every class I could on the subject in college.

This book stands out…

For its gentle simplicity.

The cover caught my eye first… and you know how I feel about covers. It’s like the first impression!

This one is a calming teal blue with (not comical) drawings of people. All kinds of people who look approachable and friendly.

It has a quiet dignity.

The teal and drawings are interspersed throughout the book which invites you to dig in.

And “dig in” I did!

After reading it, I decided that Ladau’s voice is exactly what was needed in “my” book… and by that I mean… I’m glad I didn’t write the book and that she did!

Ladau is a magnificent writer who could have turned this into a textbook, but didn’t. This is an “every-person’s” book, easy to pick up and read from any page – though the cadence works best when you start from the beginning and go to the end, especially on the first reading..

Did I mention that Ladau is a person with disabilities? No. No, I didn’t. But she is, which gives her voice an authenticity that’s undeniable.

This is a book that EVERYONE needs to read!

To give you a hint of what exactly is inside, here are the chapter headings:

  1. So, What Is Disability, Anyway?
  2. Understanding Disability as Part of a Whole Person
  3. An (Incomplete) Overview of Disability History (Sheryl’s note: I thought it was pretty-darned complete!)
  4. Ableism and Accessibility
  5. Disability Etiquette
  6. Disability in the Media

There’s a great Conclusion section, “Calling All Allies and Accomplices” and lots of good “Further Reading and Resources”.

I’d say that gives you a very nice overview of what’s covered in this little book – just over 150 pages.

It’s quite wonderful. But I bet you already figured that out!

To contact Emily Ladau

Want to get connected? Contact me via email, or reach out on Facebook or Twitter.

Wondering where else I write? Check out my published work.

Looking for an event speaker? See where I’ve presented.

About the Author

Emily Ladauis an internationally known disability rights activist, writer, and speaker. She is the editor in chief of the Rooted in Rights blog, a platform dedicated to amplifying authentic narratives of the intersectional disability experience. She also co-hosts The Accessible Stall, a podcast about disability issues. Ladau’s writing has been published in outlets including the New York Times, HuffPost, CNN, Self, Salon, Vice, The Daily Beast, Variety, and Marie Claire Australia.


  1. Sheryl! I wanted to say thank you for such a beautiful and nuanced review. I’m so grateful that you shared how your personal journey has shaped your thoughts on disability. Your Bappa sounds like such a lovely soul whose guidance was spot on. And how lucky your son is to have you for a parenf. Thank you for reading, for sharing, and for continuing to support and amplify the disability community.

    Liked by 1 person

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