Tag Archives: Americans with Disabilities Act

“Hillary Clinton sees me:” The primaries, “identity politics,” and disability

anastasia_somozaAt the Democratic National Convention, disability activist Anastasia Somoza told enthusiastic audience members that “in a country where 56 million people so often feel invisible, Hillary Clinton sees me. She sees me as a strong woman, a young professional, a hard worker, and the proud daughter of immigrants.”

Media personalities, political insiders, and the candidates themselves have talked about the 2016 presidential primaries as a departure from what we normally expect from presidential primaries. The difference is often attributed to how Donald Trump “doesn’t play by the rules” – something we are frequently reminded of by pundits on both the left and right. Continue reading

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The tortoise and the hare: institutions, policy and social change

I have been working on a project about policy innovation in the U.S. (even though it’s often considered “reluctant” or a “laggard” especially in social policy).  The case I focus on is disability rights. The idea that the U.S. is a policy leader has become difficult to sell in light of the countless articles and media reports about the 113th Congress being the most unproductive in decades and the partisan conflicts and gridlock characterizing Congress.  Not to mention the fact that about a year ago, the Senate failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (see my December 2012 post “Is anyone really against persons with disabilities?”). Ironically, the language of the Convention was based on the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act – thought of by many as the most important piece of civil rights legislation enacted since the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The rights language of the ADA also subsequently informed similar laws in Australia and the U.K.


But it is not the only policy area in which the U.S. is a leader rather than a laggard. I’d like to thank Maureen Eger for pointing me to a recent New York Times article by economics professor Tyler Cowen (Dec 21, 2013). Cowen argues that despite the emphasis on congressional gridlock which either leads to policies nobody wants or no policies at all, the U.S. is better characterized as having periods of “creative ferment” followed by periods of controversy, conflict and retrenchment more akin to a lunging and lurching than political immobility or gridlock. When it comes to handling the financial crisis, environmental policy, intellectual property, and national security/defense, the U.S. has acted rather swiftly. Conflict that may prohibit effective policy implementation typically occurs after bursts of attention and initial legislative output. Continue reading

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The When, Why, and How of Legal Mobilization

By David Pettinicchio

Social movement scholars have increasingly broadened their view of the role of social movements vis-à-vis institutions and political outcomes– that is, beyond using direct action to challenge authority. The fact that you are reading a short essay about social movements and the courts is a testament to that. As movements became increasingly viewed as part of “everyday politics” and the use of institutionalized tactics more common, not surprisingly, legal mobilization emerged as an area of interest among political sociologists and social movement scholars. Continue reading


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“Ambulance chasing” as legal mobilization?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is seen as an important victory for the disability rights movement after a long struggle for a comprehensive civil rights law protecting persons with disabilities form discrimination. Unlike the Rehabilitation Act (whose Section 504 was the first truly rights-oriented language in American disability policy), whereby political entrepreneurs had much more to do with constructing and shepherding the policy that subsequently lead to the rise of the modern disability rights movement, key movement figures were much more aware and active in the politics leading up to the ADA. Yet, although the ADA was drafted in 1988, signed into law in 1990 and took effect in 1992, my colleague, Michelle Maroto, and I were surprised to learn that employment rates and economic well-being among persons with disabilities have actually declined over the last 20 years. In drafting a manuscript on the subject, we essentially find two arguments seeking to explain the failure of this law: one claims that the ADA increased the cost of hiring persons with disabilities – unintended harms – so to speak; the other suggests that the ADA was never truly applied due to judicial resistance and narrow, illogical interpretations that favored employers over plaintiffs. Beginning in 2006, both activists and institutional entrepreneurs formally acknowledged the “failure” of the ADA (at least in improving economic conditions) through a set of hearings that would eventually lead to the ADA Restoration Act of 2007/2008. By and large, what was being restored was the intent of the ADA which had been undermined by the courts – the courts have historically not been champions of reasonable accommodation. Continue reading


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