Skip to main content

Perspectives on Medical Ethics Browse

Reading from Johnson’s Book


JOAN RINGELHEIM: Can I read from your book?


JOAN RINGELHEIM: I wanted to read something because I’m just a smidgen less embarrassed when I was when I went to Auschwitz in 1989, because doing this program has forced me to look at a lot that I think I didn’t want to look at anymore than a lot of people. And this was a very important piece of Ms. Johnson’s book:

“How is it possible that non-disabled people tend to feel sorry for me? It still takes me by surprise. The widespread assumption that disability means suffering feeds a fear of difference and a social order that doesn’t know what to do with us if it can’t make us fit its idea of normal. When we seek what we need to live good lives as we are, we come against the wall -- why bother? -- the thinking runs, all they can do is suffer. When non-disabled people start learning about disability, which seems most startling, most difficult to grasp, is the possibility of pleasure. For decades, little noticed by the larger world the disability rights movement has been mobilizing people to speak plainly about our needs. We make demands, we litigate, run for office, seize the streets, sit through the meetings, mark up the drafts, the kinds of work that has changed the world and we need to continue it. We need to confront the life-killing stereotype that says we’re all about suffering. We need to bear witness to our pleasures. I’m talking in part about the pleasures we share with non-disabled people. But I’m also talking about those pleasures that are peculiarly our own, that are so bound up with our disabilities that we wouldn’t experience them and wouldn’t experience them the same way without our disabilities.”

So I would like to thank you so very much for being here and being who you are.

HARRIET MCBRYDE JOHNSON: Thank you. It’s been an honor to be with you.

Interviewer Joan Ringelheim reads an excerpt from Johnson's book.