The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation. . – Book Notes

The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation. . – Book Notes – book review

Doris Zames Fleischer and Frieda Zames, The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2001. $79.50 hardcover, $24.95 papercover.

Sociologists have shown that social change comes about in many different ways. Change may be sparked by natural events, technological innovation or government policies to name but a few. But perhaps the most profound and enduring forms of social change are those that result from the organized efforts of ordinary people to address wrongs, educate others and modify existing beliefs and practices. Although previously neglected in sociological research, the study of social movements is now well developed and many examples of how popular movements have changed existing attitudes and social arrangements have been provided.

This book makes an impressive contribution to the understanding of how social movements arise, organize and effectively address entrenched challenges of discrimination and social injustice. However, its contribution is especially impressive for it is written not by professional sociologists but by two people who happen to have a deep personal experience of disability and whose understanding of the issues is uniquely insightful. Its account of how people with disabilities have organized to change stereotypes, challenge blatant discrimination and transform archaic attitudes offers unique insights into the much neglected issue of disability. Indeed, the authors point out that compared with race and gender, disability is seldom identified as a topic worthy of sociological research.

The authors provide a vivid and engaging historical account of the struggles of people with disabilities to be treated as ordinary human beings and to be given the rights that other American citizens take for granted. The book begins by dramatically contrasting President Roosevelt, who sought to conceal his disability, with Charles Ruff, President Clinton’s Chief Counsel, who appeared at the 1999 impeachment hearings in his wheelchair. It then chronologically traces the way people with disabilities have campaigned to change the prevailing approach from one which stressed charity, institutionalization and segregation to one which celebrates the ability of people with disabilities to live their lives within the community and to participate fully in the economy and society. Their campaigns have involved a difficult and protracted struggle which has, nevertheless, successfully contested conventional attributions, policies and practices and replaced them with a new insistence on normalization and inclusion. While the book shows just how much progress has been made in a relatively short period of time, it also reveals how much effort, determination and suffering has been required to affect social change. In addition, the authors are not complacent and warn that efforts are currently underway to reverse the gains of the past sixty years.

This is an important book. It exposes attitudes and practices towards people with disabilities that are at first shocking but on reflection evoke an awareness of how deeply ingrained prejudices about disability are, even among ordinary, well-meaning people. Its emphasis on rights and inclusion rather than charity offers an important basis for analyzing the movement’s success. The authors cover an enormous range of topics, events and issues but despite its detail and comprehensiveness, the book is readable and engaging. It should be consulted by anyone interested in knowing how people who are discriminated against can overcome and bring about substantive social change.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Western Michigan University, School of Social Work

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group