Make Them Go Away


From the Introduction.

In the years following the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the case against disability rights continued to build. Why was there so little rebuttal? The disability rights movement was very good at getting laws passed -- better, it seemed, than gays or women's groups -- but the movement shied away from public discourse. It seemed afraid to open up the issue of disability rights to public debate lest it lose the debate. It did not seem to want to acknowledge that the other side of the debate was going on full bore without it.

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.

Why was that? Most liberals and progressives believed that the problems racial minorities, women and gays faced were the result of animus, the work of a discriminatory society. When it came to disabled people, though, liberals' views were similar to those of the anti's. They believed disabled people faced essentially private, medical problems rather than problems of discrimination. What a disabled person needed, they felt, was medical intervention -- a cure. Lacking that, they should be given help, through private charity or government benefits programs.

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. | BOOK ORDERING INFO |

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