Dorothy Ellen palmer entered this world with the deck seemingly stacked against her. Born with congenital abnormalities in both feet to a young single woman unprepared for motherhood, Palmer was eventually adopted by a family equally unprepared to parent a disabled child. The stigma of being a mid-20th century disabled adoptee was instilled early in all aspects of Palmer’s life: at home, at church, at school, with health-care workers. In her new book, Palmer unsparingly details these episodes of abuse, humiliation, and pervasive ableism both internal and external.
Part memoir, part disability justice call to arms, Falling for Myself follows Palmer’s life through her suburban childhood and career as a high school teacher to her current positions as writer and activist. Palmer navigates her ongoing relationship with disability, from the secrecy and shame that filled her early years, to her evolution into a proud and vocal member of the disabled community. Through short, conversational vignettes, Palmer outlines what ableism is and the ways it is perpetuated. She also offers concrete methods to counteract it, on both individual and societal levels.
Palmer is never shy about discussing her personal truths, even when they seem somewhat out of sync with the rest of her beliefs (like a bizarre detour into a discussion about sexual assault and paternity rights in which she states, in part, that “generarations of rapists have made excellent fathers”). There’s an honesty that reflects what life is: not a neat narrative from beginning to end, but sometimes messy and disconcerting. Falling for Myself finds strength by rooting itself in Palmer’s personal stories and explaining how her lived experiences reflect broader systemic oppressions; the most gripping parts of the book are those that are primarily memoir, where Palmer is able to use her storytelling skills to guide readers from the concrete to the abstract. There are also some very strong moments in the more activist-oriented chapters, many of which will present a much-needed challenge to non-disabled readers.
Members of the disabled community, especially those close to Palmer in age, will likely recognize aspects of their own lives in Falling for Myself. For others, the book offers an accessible primer on what disability justice looks like and how urgently we need it.