Make Them Go Away

Make Them Go Away: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Reeve and The Case Against Disability Rights. By Mary Johnson. 296pp. $16.95. Softbound print book and electronic text formats available


Why was there so little support for disability rights?

It was true that the organized disability rights movement avoided the media. Its leaders felt they had good reason. Most stories about disability were inspirational features about disabled people who had overcome personal affliction with a smile and a bundle of courage, and disability rights advocates said this was not the story they wanted to convey. They seemed to believe, perhaps with justification, that they could not convince reporters or editors of any other approach.

While they were silent, others were not -- particularly those who disliked the idea of granting rights to yet another group. The case against disability rights had the same "you can't make me!" free-market histrionics one always got from social conservatives when it came to civil rights issues. The difference was that in this case, almost no liberal groups spoke out in support of disability rights.

Almost everyone instinctively felt that rights was simply the wrong lens through which to view the disability situation. "The first object of a wise but concerned policy cannot be to make people with serious disabilities move as if they did not have them," wrote The New York Times. MORE.


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"Everyone cares for disabled people, right? What they don't care for are genuine civil rights for disabled people. MARY JOHNSON tells the tortuous, enraging story of how Congress enacted a law that instead of protecting against discrimination has turned 'the disabled' into a political punching bag." --William Greider, national affairs correspondent, The Nation.

A gripping read and an awakening. -- Lucy Gwin, editor, Mouth magazine.

"Imagine an African American's voting rights withheld until he or she proved 100 percent African American descent, or a woman having to sue her employer to get a women's restroom in the workplace. Outrageous as those scenarios seem, their like is commonplace in the lives of the disabled, Johnson says, because of widespread misinterpretation and misapplication of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She points out numerous flaws in the law, beginning with its title (she prefers that of the British analog, the Disability Discrimination Act) and including the fact that it is enforceable only via lawsuit, putting rights seekers in an adversarial position, and that it contains an escape clause permitting noncompliance if accessibility causes a business "undue hardship." The disabled person's difficulties aren't, however, confined to the law, and the roots of conflict over disability rights reach deep into personal prejudices and national values. Bit-by-bit Johnson deconstructs arguments against disability rights from the likes of Clint Eastwood as well as more ordinary folk, and she constructs powerful reasons why we all benefit from inclusion." --Booklist

More reviews and blurbs


Mary Johnson is founder and editor of Ragged Edge magazine (formerly The Disability Rag.) She has been covering the disability rights movement in the U.S. for more than two decades.



"You really need to read this book. If it makes you grit your teeth, read it anyway. It will help you explain to others why we need to change our way of thinking about disability rights in general and the Americans With Disabilities Act in particular." -- David P. Rundle, The Wichita Eagle

Make Them Go Away "reveals the animus against disability underlying all those sweetly written op-ed pieces, and ... challenges us to oppose the mindset that puts the civil rights of all Americans at the mercy of the marketplace." -- Douglas Lathrop, New Mobility

"In challenging us to imagine a more accessible living environment, Johnson outlines why we all have a stake in creating such a society,'s the one minority that anyone can join in an instant... Viewed this way, accessibility becomes a matter of self-interest for everyone. [I]f America is to live up to its promise as a place of opportunity for all, then this is a discussion we desperately need to have. Johnson's thoughtful, carefully argued book is an important contribution to that dialogue, and an excellent place to start." -- Martha Barnette, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal

"I found Make Them Go Away invaluable in forming our arguments to convince Governor Gray Davis, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and the Medical Board of California to stop the Medical Board of California v, Hason appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court." -- California activist HolLynn D Lil.

"A very timely and much-needed marker for where we are in the disability movement."
-- Disability advocate Jeff Rosen

"Johnson deconstructs arguments against disability rights from the likes of Clint Eastwood as well as more ordinary folk, and she constructs powerful reasons why we all benefit from inclusion." -- Booklist

"By exposing the case against disability rights so often obscured by the insistence that 'no one's against the handicapped,' and by articulating the case for disability rights, Johnson has improved the odds that we may at last take disability rights seriously, and break the 'strange silence.'" -- Art Blaser, from Mainstream

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