Longform

Jennifer Longdon Wears Her Heart on Her Facebook Page

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Then it's time for shoes.

She used to love shoes. Now she hates them. They must be flat, accommodate swelling. They can't fly off. She's tried double-stick tape and once, for a special occasion, duct tape, which can get dangerous if you don't remove it carefully. She says she's given up on fancy shoes; pretty earrings and makeup — when she's going out, anyway — make up for them.

By now it's 7, and it's time for coffee. She makes half a pot, eats breakfast (Longdon admits to a sweet tooth, so it might be a piece of leftover limoncello Bundt cake) and opens the laptop.

Her foray into social media began with a community website that offers medical advice for people with spinal-cord injuries. Then she joined Facebook to play Scrabble with her "Care Cure" friends — and it took off from there.

"Facebook is a drug. I can quit it anytime. It's a beer on Saturday; next thing you know, it's a six-pack a night."

She does get un-friended. "I am an acquired taste," she says.

Longdon does a lot of advocacy for people with disabilities. And she also works on gun-control measures, particularly since the 2011 shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in Tucson and last year's Newtown school massacre in Connecticut.

She's testified against measures to increase access to guns and supports universal background checks, but she does not take it as far as you might expect, given her personal experience.

"I don't think we should ban guns. Not at all," she says.

Not handguns, anyway.

"You should not be able to put 11 holes in a first-grader," she says. In any human being, she adds.

She was shot by a handgun, and now, she admits, when she sees one, it's like looking at a black widow or a scorpion. She talks about how hard it was to tell her story at the Legislature last year during the guns-on-campus debate. She got upset and went out to the hallway. A police officer there to testify came out to comfort her.

She shakes her head. Cops are the ones who have it hard, she says.

"You know," I say, "you don't have to do this. You don't have to put yourself in such painful positions."

Longdon says, "Yeah, I do," looking away, her eyes filling. She looks back.

"Yeah, I do."

It's not just a matter of being busy. Maybe it's the failed marriage and rough times with her son (Matt is now a journalism student at ASU and the two do have a relationship) or gratitude for survival. Certainly, it has something to do with the friends who showed her kindness after she was injured. Longdon feels compelled to help others. At first, she couldn't do much, she says; she cut her hair and gave it to Locks of Love, the organization that makes wigs for cancer patients. As she got stronger — and more vocal — it's grown into positions with titles: chair of the Mayor's Commission on Disability Issues and board member (among others) of the Statewide Independent Living Council and Arizonans for Gun Safety. One of her favorite gigs: touring other people with disabilities around the state capitol, teaching them how to advocate for themselves.

Longdon's fan club is growing. She's received several awards for her advocacy and a reputation among elected officials as the person to call if you want to get something done on disability issues.

"She is always prepared. She does her homework," says Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. "She is incredibly generous with her time."

He admits there's not a lot of publicity given to the work of the city's disability commission, but he says it's still "incredibly important."

Her prodding on issues of accessibility (she's on a current crusade to better equip some light-rail stops) makes city officials think about it a lot more than they used to, Stanton says. Even though they don't always agree with her.

That's okay, he says. He's not looking for cheerleaders.

"When Jennifer Longdon challenges me and the city I love, it makes me a better mayor," he says.

There's been talk about Longdon herself running for public office.

Oh, no, she says, insisting she's not nice enough to get elected. She doesn't believe both sides are always equal.

Anyhow, she asks, with a gleam in her eye, what about Facebook?

"I'd have to give that up, wouldn't I?"

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.