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Book Reviews   |    
The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation
Reviewed by Susan Stefan, J.D.
Psychiatric Services 2003; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.54.5.752
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by Doris Zames Fleischer and Frieda Zames; Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 2001, 278 pages, $24.95 softcover

Despite its title, this book spends relatively little time on historical attitudes toward disability—the "charity" part of its title—and moves quickly into the modern transformation of disability into a political and civil rights movement. (Those with an interest in historical perspectives can read The Disability Studies Reader [1], edited by Lennard J. Davis). The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation is an excellent primer on a wide variety of current disability issues, with a good summary of each, across the range of disabilities—except, of course, psychiatric disabilities. It is an interesting paradox that although political activists in the disability rights movement unhesitatingly include people with psychiatric disabilities in their efforts—the late Justin Dart, a monumental disability rights figure, comes to mind—disability scholars, writers, and historians rarely give more than passing attention to people with psychiatric disabilities.

Thus Doris Zames Fleischer and Frieda Zames devote an entire chapter of their book to deinstitutionalization without so much as a single mention of people with psychiatric disabilities or mental retardation. Another chapter— "In the Streets and in the Courts"—describes legal rights organizations for people with disabilities and their cases without once mentioning the Mental Health Law Project (now the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law).

In fact, in a 215-page book remarkable for its breadth of coverage in areas relating to physical disabilities, the authors devote less than ten pages to psychiatric disabilities, and these ten pages include an eclectic mix indeed: two pages on psychopharmacology (in the chapter "Disability and Technology" rather than the chapter "Access to Jobs and Health Care"), two pages on criminalization (this one in "Access to Jobs and Health Care"), three pages on employment of people with psychiatric disabilities, and two and a half pages on "Different Approaches to Psychiatric Disabilities."

This failure to include people with psychiatric disabilities as anything more than an afterthought is not unique. The two leading books in the field are Joseph Shapiro's No Pity: People With Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement (2) and the equally worthy but older From Good Will to Civil Rights: Transforming Federal Disability Policy, by Richard Scotch (3). Neither of these two authors paid any attention to people with psychiatric disabilities, although Shapiro has since acknowledged this and added material in later editions.

Like Shapiro's book, The Disability Rights Movement is only roughly chronological: one chapter describes issues related to people who are blind or deaf, one describes the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), one is devoted to disabled veterans, one to disability technology, and so on. Whereas Shapiro writes in depth, raising difficult issues such as the right to die in the context of severe disability, The Disability Rights Movement has a wider scope but less depth.

The book includes a good discussion of case law, especially given that the authors do not have formal legal training. This is particularly true in the area of special education and the Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act.

One major problem for which the authors cannot be held responsible is the rapid evolution of events in disability research and law. For example, their excellent summary of privacy issues has been superseded by the new Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations issued by the Bush Administration. When the book was published, the Supreme Court had not yet decided University of Alabama v. Garrett, which found that states could not be sued for damages for employment discrimination under the ADA. A discussion of the federal politics of assisted suicide ends with the support of then Attorney General Janet Reno for the Oregon legislation legalizing assisted suicide; the Justice Department under John Ashcroft has launched a full-scale attack on the Oregon legislation.

The Disability Rights Movement is a very good book for quickly getting up to speed on the major legal, political, and social issues confronting people with physical disabilities. However, it will be of limited use for mental health professionals seeking this kind of information and coverage in the area of psychiatric disability or mental retardation.

Ms. Stefan is senior staff attorney with the Center for Public Representation in Newton, Massachusetts.

Davis L (ed): The Disability Studies Reader. New York, Routledge 1997
 
Shapiro J: No Pity: People With Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement. New York, Times Books, 1993
 
Scotch R: From Good Will to Civil Rights: Transforming Federal Disability Policy. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1984
 
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References

Davis L (ed): The Disability Studies Reader. New York, Routledge 1997
 
Shapiro J: No Pity: People With Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement. New York, Times Books, 1993
 
Scotch R: From Good Will to Civil Rights: Transforming Federal Disability Policy. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1984
 
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