Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New and improved Disability 411; Review of The Short Bus by Jonathan Mooney

Okay, it is new and improved. It features a re-designed web page. And, the latest episode is out.

The “it” in this case, is the
Disability 411 podcast,
On whose latest episode your humble blogger makes his debut as a regular contributor. In this episode, D411 host Beth Case also announces some other guest contributors, putting me in some good company.

The other contributers are Day Al-Mohamed, of the
Day in Washington podcast,
Jacquie Brennan, from the
Disability Law Lowdown podcast,
And Chris Wright, a web designer, musician, and all-around idea generator for Beth.

Chris is also offering to do screen reader accessibility evaluations of web sites at no charge to D411 listeners (or readers, for those who choose to read the transcript instead of listening to the podcast). To contact him, send an email to
and put “web site evaluation” in the subject line. Also, make sure you mention that you’re a fan of D411.

Do check out the D411 site's new logo and web page. It also includes disability news headlines, as well as some of Beth's favorite resource links.

For my beginning D411 contribution, I offer a review of
The Short Bus, A Journey beyond normal
Jonathan Mooney.

I first heard about this book a few months ago when the author emailed me through this blogsite and offered to send me a review copy. I replied to Mr. Mooney and asked if he had a review copy that was accessible to a computer screen reader and explained some formats that would work. Unfortunately, I never heard back from Mr. Mooney. I had checked out his web site and read a part of the introduction. I was really eager to read more, but that didn’t happen for a while.

I didn’t have access to check for the book’s availability through the
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Disabled (NLS),
because more than five years ago, I had quit listening to those modified talking books on 4-track cassettes. I had grown tired of listening to books in that format due to what I felt was excessive space needs and effort to listen to books in what I felt was an antiquedated media format in a digital age.

The good news is that since getting my Victor Reader Stream, and its ability to play the protected digital files from the
NLS Downloadable Book and Magazine Service,
I’ve re-established my membership with the library. And, yes, The Short Bus was available as a download. It was actually the first NLS book that I downloaded and listened to on this accessible media player.

Jonathan Mooney is an author and speaker who has captured the essence of his own experience as a child with a learning disability, and turned it into a quest to explore how others with differing disabilities live their lives. Mooney was a boy who was dyslexic and didn’t learn to read until he was 12 years old. Along his way through the public school system, he heard many things, most notable of which was that he would do well to graduate high school and that college was all but out of the question. Like so many other people with disabilities, Mooney tapped into his strengths and survived, surpassing those glum predictions of his academic future. Not only was he able to parlay his atheletic skills into a scholarship to Loyola Marimount, but he later went on to graduate with honors from Brown University.

In the introduction, Mooney talks about how he began one presentation with an empathetic statement of, “Normal people suck.” In those three words, Mooney gives an indication of his approach to change his presentation to fit the situation and effectively reach out and connect with particular members of his audience.

The book’s title states exactly what the book is about. Mooney draws upon his childhood memories of when he rode that iconic symbol for kids in special education to school. However, what he has done now is make it a familiar means of recognition, and a very bold statement maker it is, as his means of transportation in this coast-to-coast journey exploring how people of different ages across the country manage their various disabilities. All the while he illustrates the defining personality of each person he visits, allowing us to see them for their abilities and not just their disabilities.

That takes care of explaining the title, for the most part, but that word “Normal” is there for a very specific reason. Children with disabilities are classified and treated as being outside the norm and Mooney examines the educational and social constructs for this. He also offers a brief history about many of the discussed disabilities and, peppered throughout the text, offers a good representation of the disability rights movement here in the United States.

More than just examining the definition of what it means to be classified outside the boundaries of “normal,” what each person he presents does, is present their own method of challenging what it is to be normal. Each of these people are presented, despite any limitations their disabilities impose, as normal people. They interact with their family, their community, and pursue life with zeal. That pursuit can be seen in the way the 8-year old deaf-blind girl understand so much more than what many perceive, or maybe how she plays a trick on her brother. Or it might be found in the older, transgender man named Cookie who has a deep understanding of art and paints a mural on the inside of Mooney’s bus, even though one of his darkest recollections was when he was six and his teacher called him stupid. Or, maybe it is in the heart of the boy who uses a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, but has an undying love for roller coasters. It can be found in any of the variety of people Mooney meets up with. Pick any one of them and you’ll find out a new definition of what normal is.

The book is written in a style that is easy and comfortable to read, like sitting down with an old friend. While the language is direct and sometimes coarse, it usually fits the context. For anybody who works in the disability service field, The Short Bus should make a stop on your reading list. It is a good read covering a range of disabilities and profiles some strong people with attitudes that allow them to pursue life. While I had to wait a few months to get a copy I could read, it was definitely worth the wait.

There is a lot more than just my review of that book on D411. Go to the D411 home page and check out its new design and grab the latest episode.

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