Disablism Reflected in Law and Policy: The Social Construction and Perpetuation of Prejudice

Main Article Content

Tommy Horejes
Pat Lauderdale


diversity, disablism, politics


There are widespread historical and cultural analyses of the problems associated with racism, sexism, classism, and other types of prejudice; however, there is a paucity on disablism.  As with other prejudices, an examination of the origins and perpetuation of disablism is controversial because it is cloaked in narrow legal and policy analyses of the historical and cultural documentation on the notion of disability.  There has been little systematic research on disablism and typically it has been misrepresented as a health, economic, technical, or safety issue rather than prejudice.  In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was signed into law with the assumption that it would provide equal accommodations for disabled people.  In this paper, we examine the institutions of education and the workplace to analyze how “equal accommodations” under such policies pose some serious and problematic political processes and consequences in shaping disability rights.  Our analysis suggests that from an international perspective most disability policies remain rooted in a narrow medical model, despite evidence of attempts to construct politics of diversity and self definition.

Abstract 556 | PDF Downloads 302 Word Downloads 106 Text Downloads 147


Avoke, M. (2002). Models of disability in the labeling and attitudinal discourse in Ghana. Disability and Society, 17(7), 769-77.

Balias, S., & Kiprianos, P. (2005). Disability in Greece: Social perception and educational policies. The Review of Disability Studies, 1(3), 44-53.

Baines, L., Baines, C., & Masterson, C. (1994). Mainstreaming: One school’s reality. Phi Delta Kappan, 76, 39-40, 57-64.

Barnes, C. (1996). What next? Disability, the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act and the campaign for disabled peoples’ rights. Skills, 55, 7-9.

Beresford, P., & Holden, C. (2000). We have choices: Globalization and welfare user movements. Disability and Society, 15(7), 973-989.

Brown, S. (2003). Movie stars and sensuous scars: Essays on the journey from disability shame to disability pride. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.

Cole, C. M., Waldron, N., & Majd, M. (2004). Academic progress of students across inclusive and traditional settings, Mental Retardation, 42(2), 136-144.

Conrad, P., & Schneider, J. (1992). Deviance and medicalization: From badness to sickness. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Donoghue, C. (2003). Challenging the authority of the medical definition of disability: An analysis of the resistance to the social constructionist paradigm. Disability & Society, 18(2), 199-208.

Gillinson, S., Miller, P., & Parker, S. (2004). Disablism. London: Central Books Press.

Gilson, S., & DePoy, E. (2004). Disability, identity, and cultural diversity. The Review of Disability Studies, 1(1), 16-24.

Fleischer, D., & Zames, F. (2001). The disability rights movement: From charity to confrontation. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Foucault, M. (1995, original printing 1975, Translated by A. Sheridan). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Hahn, H. (2000). Accommodations and the ADA: Unreasonable bias or biased reasoning? Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, 21, 166-192.

Humphrey, J. (1999). Disabled people and the politics of difference. Disability and Society, 14(2), 173 -188.

Inverarity, J., Lauderdale, P., & Feld, B. (1983). Law and society. Boston, MA: Little, Brown.

Jahnukainen, M. (2005). Education in the prevention of social exclusion. The Review of Disability Studies, 1(3), 36-43.

Jakubowicz, A., & Meekosha, H. (2002). Bodies in motion: critical issues between disability studies and multicultural studies. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 23(3), 237–252.

Jolly, D. (2003). The government of disability: Economics and power in welfare and work. Disability and Society, 18(4), 509-522.

Kairys, D. (1998). The politics of law: A progressive critique (3rd ed.). New York: Basic Books.

Lane, H. (1999). Mask of benevolence (2nd ed.) San Diego, CA: Dawn Sign Press.

Lauderdale, P. (2003). A political analysis of deviance. New edition. Whitby, Canada: de Sitter Publications.

Longmore, P. (2003). Why I burned my book and other essays on disability. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Martin, G. (2002). Conceptualizing cultural politics in subcultural and social movement studies. Social Movement Studies, 1(1), 73-88.

Nader, L. (2002). The life of the law: Anthropological projects. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

O’Brien, R. (Ed.). (2004). Voices from the edge: Narratives about the Americans with Disabilities Act. New York: Oxford University Press.

Oliverio, A., & Lauderdale, P. (2005). Terrorism as deviance or social control: Suggestions for future research. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 46, 153-169.

Russell, M. (2002). What disability civil rights cannot do: Employment and political economy. Disability and Society, 17(2), 117-135.

Scotch, R. (2001). From good will to civil rights: Transforming federal disability policy (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Shanker, A. (1994-1995). Full inclusion is neither free nor appropriate, Educational Leadership, 52(4), 18-21.

Stevens, G. R. (2002). Employers' perceptions and practice in the employability of disabled people: A survey of companies in south east UK. Disability and Society, 17(7), 779-96.

Swedberg, R. (2000). Max Weber and the idea of economic sociology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Switzer, J. (2003). Disabled rights: American disability policy and the fight for equality. Georgetown University Press

Thomas, G., & Lauderdale, P. (1988). State authority and social welfare in the world system context. Sociological Forum 3, 383-399.

Tremain, S. L. (2005). Foucault and the government of disability. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

United Nations Commission on Human Rights (2004). Human rights of people with disabilities. Commission on European Union human rights and democratisation policy. Retrieved September 8, 2006, from http://ec.europa.eu/comm/external_relations/human_rights/disability/index.htm

U.S. Census Bureau. (2001). Americans with disabilities: Household Economic Studies. February 2001, 70-73.

Vaughn, S., & Schumm, J. (1995). Responsible inclusion for students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 28, 264-270.

Weber, M. (1968). Economy and society: An outline of interpretive sociology. Translation of the 4th German edition, Totowa, NJ: Bedminster Press.

Winzer, M. (1993). The history of special education: From isolation to integration. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Similar Articles

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.