The Month in Disability History
by Mike Reynolds
February 9: "Breathing Lessons" Nominated for Oscar
"Breathing Lessons," a documentary by award-winning filmmaker Jessica
Yu, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short
Subject) on this date in 1997. The film later won the Oscar in this
In "Breathing Lessons," Yu explored "the unique world of Mark O'Brien,
the poet journalist who ... lived for four decades paralyzed in an iron
lung." O'Brien had polio since childhood, and Yu received much praise
for her honest, candid portrayal of his life. In the film, she
incorporated "the vivid imagery of O'Brien's poetry and his candid,
wry, and often profound reflections on work, sex, death, and God."
Shortly after winning the Oscar, the film was shown on Cinemax, and the
ensuing publicity helped with the publication of O'Brien's
autobiography, "How I Became a Human Being: A Disabled Man's Quest for
Independence," written with Gillian Kendall.
In 2013, "The Sessions," another movie based on O'Brien's life, was nominated for an Oscar and two Golden Globes.
February 18: Audre Lorde Born
Audre Lorde, the Caribbean-American poet and activist, was born on this
date in 1934. She struggled with vision problems throughout her life:
She was so nearsighted she was considered legally blind. In later life,
she battled cancer.
Lorde earned a bachelor's degree in library science from Hunter College
in New York while supporting herself as a factory worker, ghostwriter,
social worker, X-ray technician, medical clerk, and arts-and-crafts
supervisor. In 1954, she spent a year at the National University of
Mexico, and at this time she confirmed her personal and artistic
identity as a lesbian and poet.
In the 1960s, Lorde's poetry was published in Langston Hughes's "New
Negro Poets USA," in various foreign anthologies, and in
African-American literary magazines. She participated in the civil
rights, antiwar, and feminist movements. Her first volume of poetry,
"First Cities," was published in 1968. Her following collections
included "Cables to Rage" (1970), "From a Land Where Other People Live"
(1973), and "The Black Unicorn" (1978). She wrote two memoirs, "The
Cancer Journals" (1980) and "A Burst of Light"(1988). In 1980, she
cofounded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, America's first
publisher for women of color. From 1991 to 1992, she was the State Poet
of New York.
In her work, Lorde focused on issues of race, gender, age, and health.
She said "I am defined as other in every group I'm part of" and
described herself as "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet." She died
in 1992 after her 14-year struggle with breast cancer. In an African
naming ceremony before her death, she took the name Gamba Adisa, which
means "she who makes her meaning clear."
February 23: Nick Dupree Born
Nick Dupree is a 31-year-old writer and advocate for disability rights
and long-term-care-reform. He was born in 1982 and grew up in Mobile,
Alabama. His two-year campaign to change Medicaid in Alabama, "Nick's
Crusade," gained national attention when he sued the state of Alabama
to retain in-home services for ventilator-dependent Alabama residents
over the age of 21. The lawsuit, along with pressure from state and
federal officials and the media, led to the creation of a waiver
program to allow up to 25 ventilator-dependent residents to continue
receiving home care after age 21. In 2003, Dupree received the National
Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems (NAPAS) award for
Advocate of the Year. He has given keynote speeches at conferences in
Chicago, Minneapolis, Washington, DC, as well as in Dr. Martin Luther
King's church in Montgomery, Alabama. He moved to New York City in
2008, and lives with his domestic partner, Alejandra Ospina.
February 27: Ralph Nader Born
Ralph Nader is an attorney, political activist, and writer who is
mainly known for his work as a consumer advocate. He also founded the
Disability Rights Center, based in Washington, DC. The attorney and
disability advocate Evan Kemp served as the director of the Disability
Rights Center before being appointed to the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission, where he laid the groundwork for the creation
of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Nader was a staunch critic of corporations, which he believed
undermined the fundamental American values of democracy and human
rights. In addition to the Disability Rights Center, he helped found
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration (OSHA), the Center for Auto Safety, the Clean
Water Action Project, the Pension Rights Center, the Project for
Corporate Responsibility, Public Citizen, and several Public Interest
Research Groups (PIRGs). The Atlantic Monthly named Nader in its list
of the 100 most influential Americans.