Dec 15, 2008

I Raise My Eyes to Say Yes

by Ruth Sienkiewicz-Mercer and Steven Kaplan

This is the memoir of a woman with cerebral palsy. Ruth was born in 1950. From infancy her body was almost completely paralyzed and she never learned to walk or speak. Eventually home care became too difficult for her family, and at the age of twelve Ruth went to a state institution where she spent the next sixteen years of her life. Although Ruth was mentally sound and quite smart, her communication was very limited, and the minimal facial signals she had used with her family were misunderstood or ignored at the institution. For years she was treated callously like one of the many residents with severe mental handicaps. She suffered from neglect and observed horrific conditions, but in the book mostly describes the people around her and how she struggled with depression and tried to maintain hope for her future.

Eventually Ruth gained companionship when another girl with similar physical disabilities occupied the bed next to her, and together they slowly worked out a repertoire of gestures which allowed them to converse in a limited fashion. Over the years Ruth watched situations at the state facility gradually improve, until there was a better staff-to-resident ratio which allowed staff members to give her more individual attention. Her intelligence was finally recognized, and Ruth was included in the first classes to provide basic education for the residents. She learned rudimentary reading and spelling skills which along with new computerized communication devices, gave her a voice for the first time when she was about twenty years old. Even then, forming sentences and getting her message across was very painstaking.

Reading the first chapter of this book about how Kaplan worked with Ruth to write her life story is astonishing. It took hours of mostly yes-and-no questioning for Kaplan to learn about each incident and opinion Ruth had to share. Then Kaplan would spend more time writing out each passage and read it back to Ruth for her approval or correction. It took about ten years for this book to take shape. I Raise My Eyes to Say Yes is an inspiring story of courage and perseverance. It will forever alter your perception of people with physical disabilities.

You can visit the book's website here.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 225 pages, 1989

2 comments:

teabird said...

When I first read this book, not only did it change how I see handicapped people - also anyone who has communications issues, from stuttering to shyness. It's an amazing book.

writer2b said...

This story sounds amazing. What tough-mindedness Ruth must have had to maintain hope for so long.