by LeAnne Nelson
reviewed by Evelyn Anderson
Many Access Press readers know LeAnne Nelson Dahl by name since she has written articles for this publication over several years.
I’m one of the lucky people who also knows her in person. I met LeAnne more than 20 years ago, when she and two other women, Polly Edmunds and Rianne Leaf, walked into our little PACER office in south Minneapolis. I was one of the original staff of five at PACER, and the three newcomers were puppeteers in what came to be known as “Count Me In.” LeAnne was the first person with cerebral palsy I had ever known well enough to speak to, and she shattered my stereotypes right away.
LeAnne, Rianne, and Polly visited elementary schools to talk with kids about disabilities in a non-threatening manner. They did so by operating life-size puppets—each representing a disability with which the puppeteer had a personal connection.
LeAnne’s puppet character was Sally, a girl with cerebral palsy. LeAnne told us at PACER a story, laughing as she told it, that still stays with me. When she (as Sally) told the kids she had “CP,” she asked them if they knew what that was. A little boy answered with excitement, “Chicken pox!”
I was pleased to see that one of my other favorite LeAnne stories turned into the title of her new book: You Walk Pretty. A neighbor child watched LeAnne walking in front of her home with her usual gait, which some would describe as clumsy or awkward. The little girl said, clearly impressed, “You walk pretty.”
LeAnne does walk pretty and has a pretty soul. Her book, a longtime dream, consists of poetry that describes incidents in her life and particularly honors her parents, now deceased, for their belief in her and their commitment to her educational and personal development. In the book, LeAnne tells what it is like to live with cerebral palsy and to struggle toward independence. Besides helping herself, she has long been an advocate and lobbyist for others with disabilities.
LeAnne’s independent spirit and faith show through, particularly when she writes of the difficult times she has faced. Those of us who know her aren’t surprised at all. In a poem called “What Would I Do?” from You Walk Pretty, LeAnne writes about her dreams of what she’d be if she didn’t have cerebral palsy: a teacher, a driver for home-bound people, a worker in a homeless shelter. Then she concludes:
However, I do have cerebral palsy.
I’m thankful for what I can do and give.
Perhaps things don’t come easy for me,
But I will give all I can as long as I live.
Autographed copies are available by contacting the author at [email protected]. The book also is available through the publisher, www.publish america.com. Type in the title in the ”Online Bookstore” tab. Cost is $1495 with postage.
Evelyn Anderson, who worked for Arc Minnesota as well as PACER, currently is with the MN Department of Health as coordinator the new MN Disability Health Project. She may be reached at [email protected].