Judy Babbitt was born in 1940 in
In 1946, Judy was struck with polio, a contagious disease that affected
nerves, paralyzed and killed many across the entire
Being only six at the time, Judith learned quickly to adjust the new way of life. When one is young, everything is a challenge so polio was just one more challenge. The treatment for polio was brutal and for many adults that got the disease it was even more difficult for them to recover. This interview is not about polio but suffice it to say that there was a lot going on in the environment of a child with polio and their families.
Judy was taught from the ďget-goĒ that while she had a difference and a different way of doing some things, she did not have a deficit. There is a huge difference in those two words and once it is understood that a difference can often lead to creativity and success and a deficit may lead down the other path of self-pity and bitterness, one can quickly see which path leads to success and happiness.
Judy has always been a woman of strength and determination. After she was no longer
in treatment, Judy returned a year later to Rapid City to pick up where she
left off , entering the fourth grade at the local elementary school. From there
is was Rapid City Jr. and High School;
Judith has been a true friend to EVERYONE and especially, a true friend to me.
What year were you born?
I was born in 1940.
What was it like being a child in 1946?
The same as is with happy growing kids now. Everything was great; I ran around and played, got into trouble and out of it as all kids do. It was great, until July 5, in 1946 when I was diagnosed with polio. Everyone knew what polio was, and parents were urged to keep their kids always from pools and other places that were virus generators because of crowds. I wasnít really afraid, just sick with a horrible headache and fever.
What happened in 1946?
Everyone was getting polio. Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt had it. Yes, and as I grew older, he became an idol. He had the same disability I did. When I got polio, it was the disease of the nation and you know there was hardly one family that wasnít affected by it.
Because it was something they had no control of. It was like an AIDS epidemic because they had no way to control it. It was a significant national crisis. There was not a cure, it at first felt like the flu, with headaches and fever. It was at first very painful. Polio is a disease affecting the nerves. Iím no scientist, but it affects the neurological system which messages to muscles to move and act. What it does, it affects the way the nerves work so they quit sending messages and then nerves began to die and then muscles weaken. This happened because the nerves arenít stimulating the muscles and they donít move. Polio is very interesting in that some of the lost muscles and nerves will return and often people that were infected recover almost all strength. In my case, I regained enough muscle in my legs so that for years I could walk, but with a severe limp. I still had muscle loss but not to the point of using a chair for mobility.
Was there any medicines given back then?
No! Everyone now gets polio shots and you give your kids polio shots, but from the point before that was done, just about every family in the country had polio. Now, with the shots nobody gets polio. However, it is still prevalent in
What was the cost for all of this?
I have no idea what the treatment and isolation wards costs. I was only six. I know that the Easter Seals original purpose was to raise money for polio treatment.
Very much! I was isolated! It was like an epidemic, Everyone caught it very quickly. Like the flu.
Yeah! Yeah! Mrs. Babbitt then whispers: We could do another interview just on that.
I was isolated from my whole family, my sister, my brother, and my parents for almost a year! While my parents could visit me, my other family members could not. I was in a facility 6o miles from my home. That year threw real twist into the entire familyís way of doing things. After a while, I essentially got over the sickness;; I went home back to school. Then there were no laws prescribing accessible communities which meant there were no ramps, curb ramps and not many elevators. Getting around was pretty tough but I was little and tough and the barriers didnít seem to matter. I was using crutches then and got such strong arms and shoulders they keep me going to this day.
Disability was an unknown in those days. There was no acceptance of people with any disability and many disabled people were isolated at home all their lives. In the '60s, I walked well enough without crutches that I could step up curbs and could climb steps. However, I often found that a there were long flights of steps involved and that was always a challenge. Schools were not modified. The people that couldnít walk were not around, they were nowhere, hence isolated from the real world. Many were forced into institutional settings.
Nowhere? Who helped them?
No one helped them. They lived with parents or in institutions, often with no regard to their abilities or income. That is precisely, why the disability right advocates talk about disability as being isolating and discriminatory. People who have been isolated all their lives canít be expected to suddenly be on the streets or how to function as a responsible member of society and understand how to go to restaurants how to go anywhere. My family would say, ďyou go lil sucker, you get out there and you are going to do the dishes like everybody else and youíre going to help clean the house and go to school. And I think that is why I appreciate being brought up with a family that never said, ďpoor youĒ. I grew up with the full knowledge that I was a participant in my own decisions and responsible for them.
When did the isolation stop and how?
The isolation is still there and it is often reflected in peopleís attitude and learned beliefs about people with disability. The civil rights laws for disabled people, principally the ADA, passed in 1990 have had the most to do with opening doors to disabled people.
What would you do different now?
In my life? You know, I donít know, I feel I try to do the best I can. I think I could say in my religion is not include going to church every Sunday, but living every single day like its my last day. Iím going to live here and do the best I can every day because there may not be another day. This may be it. There may be no after-life. This may be my one chance to live my life so that I have made a difference and have contributed. With this philosophy, I can honestly say that I like myself and have had fantastic experiences and have been able to share them with others. Through those life applications perhaps I have and continue to help make some substantive and positive changes in my community.
In reality your disability has been a door opener for you?
In a way it has, but what has altered my directions was joining the Peace Corps. I volunteered for two years and was in the Philippine
With your disability?
Yes. I surely didnít lose the disability, I am who I am. I have a disability but only in certain activities. Environmental barriers create disability so no barriersóno disability. This was in the early days when John Kennedy was President I did my training for two months in
Why do you feel it took so long for you to know a black person??
Because there were few of any black people in
Where were they?
I donít know, they arenít there now either. You know, I just read the statistics. South Dakota is the only state in the USA that on the census of 2000 has zero, Hispanics, zero!
Why is that? Racism or what?
No! I am not a demographer so I invite you to go to
I am going to make it a point to go visit.
I am learning a lot more now.
Perhaps, I should teach you
What is it that you do?
I am a City Planner. I work for the City of
What would you tell Mr. Myers?
I think itís a great opportunity for the students to get to know people that they might not ordinary know. This sort of exercise includes the multiple dimensions of history, geography; politics of the day; economics all within the context of peopleís real lives. Additionally, if there are 20 individuals in the classroom and you have 20 different perspectives on our community this new and enlightening information will enrich the class and hopefully the perspectives they have on their own history and place in our communities. In summary, this project is very creative.
This interview has taught me more than any other class or teacher ever has.
I never knew the struggle and isolation my friend Judith went through as a
child. Now I can understand and see why she is an advocate for anyone with a
disability; why she makes sure no one struggles to get around from one place to
another. She was not only a witness of this deadly disease, but a victim and a
survivor as well. I also learned about polio, the deadly disease. Who
discovered it, its effects, and how people with this disease were disabled and
isolated before. How ironic, this being a history
class where I have learned how immigrants struggle to come to America for a
better way of life, that itís an immigrant Russian and Jewish coupleís son by
the name of Jonas Edward Salk, who makes history by discovering the polio vaccine
in 1954. I now wonder, what would have happened if his parents had not
Peace Corps. (2005) This is the official Peace Corps website.
Disability Etiquetted Handbook
Jonas Edward Salk 1914ó1995
The Cycle of Men
Through the windows of history we
see from the north, south, east, and west,
what weíve accomplished and what could be our next quest.
The answers to the questions who,
when, and why, in books and research lie.
In the future, the answers to the questions what and where,
can be the starting point from here to there.
Through the windows of history we
see from the north, south, east, and west,
How men change history, but history does not change men.
This to no one is a mystery, for this will always be history.
Maria Gloria Flores