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The ADA at 25: Why Movements Matter Following Legislative “Victories”

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The Disability Pride Parade in New York City, July 2015

Movement scholars have become increasingly interested in the ways in which social movements directly shape the policy agenda; that is, what role they play in how issues gain prominence in the government and how these issues get framed. Much of the focus has been on the relationship between increasing movement activity, such as organizational expansion, protest and lobbying, and increasing resources government allocates to an issue.

However, less is known about the link between movement mobilization and actual legislative promises once policies are enacted, especially in light of subsequent demobilization and issue decline. It’s important to draw attention to this less developed area of study given the renewed interest in defining successful social change and whether movements are themselves successful in influencing these (policy) outcomes.

Take for instance, the case of disability employment anti-discrimination legislation. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was proclaimed the “emancipation proclamation” for people with disabilities and the most significant civil rights law since the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Not surprisingly, it was seen as an important victory for disability advocates in the government and for the disability rights movement. But, in a recent op-ed for USA Today, I argued that when it comes to employment and earnings outcomes, the ADA has failed to deliver. Continue reading

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