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Disability rights movement

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Not to be confused with Disability studies.
Alternative access to the subway in Japan
Floor marker for disabled people in Narita Airport, Japan

The disability rights movement is a global movement to secure equal opportunities and equal rights for all people with disabilities.

It is made up of organisations of disability activists around the world working together with similar goals and demands, such as: accessibility and safety in transportation, architecture, and the physical environment; equal opportunities in independent living, employment equity, education, and housing; and freedom from discrimination, abuse, neglect, and other violations.[1] Disability activists are working to break social, physical and institutional barriers that prevent them from living their life to the full.[1][2]

Disability barriers[edit]

The social model of disability suggests disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s disability. This model suggests barriers in society are created by ableism. When barriers are removed, people with disabilities can be independent and equal in society.

There are three main types of barriers:[3]

  1. Attitudinal barriers: are created by people who see only disability when associating with people with disabilities in some way. These attitudinal barriers can be witnessed through bullying, discrimination, and fear. These barriers include societal low expectations of people with disabilities. These barriers, contribute to all other barriers.[3][4][5] Attitudes towards people with disabilities in low and middle-income countries can be even more extreme.[6]
  2. Environmental barriers: inaccessible environments, natural or built, create disability by creating barriers to participation and inclusion.
  3. Institutional barriers: include many laws, policies, strategies or practices that discriminate against people with disabilities. For example, a study of five Southeast Asian countries found that electoral laws do not specially protect the political rights of persons with disabilities, while ‘some banks do not allow visually impaired people to open accounts, and HIV testing centers often refuse to accept sign language interpreters due to confidentiality policies’[7] Many countries still have restrictive laws, particularly affecting people with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities.[8]

Other barriers include: internalised barriers (low expectations of people with disabilities can undermine their confidence and aspirations), inadequate data and statistics, lack of participation and consultation of disabled people.


The disability movement for people with physical impairments[edit]

Access to public areas such as city streets and public buildings and restrooms are some of the more visible changes brought about in recent decades to remove physical barriers. A noticeable change in some parts of the world is the installation of elevators, automatic doors, wide doors and corridors, transit lifts, wheelchair ramps, curb cuts, and the elimination of unnecessary steps where ramps and elevators are not available, allowing people in wheelchairs and with other mobility impairments to use public sidewalks and public transit more easily and more safely.

The disability movement for people with learning disabilities[edit]

Advocates for the rights of people with developmental disabilities focus their efforts on gaining acceptance in the workforce and in everyday activities and events from which they might have been excluded in the past. Unlike many of the leaders in the physical disability rights community, self-advocacy has been slow in developing for people with developmental disabilities. As a result, much of the work done by the Disability Rights Movement was completed by allies, or those without disabilities but with a strong connection to someone with disabilities. Parents, friends, and siblings fought for education and acceptance when their loved ones with cognitive disabilities could not.[9] Public awareness of the civil rights movement for this population remains limited, and the stereotyping of people with developmental disabilities as non-contributing citizens who are dependent on others remains common. Today, the movement has a more social focus to increase this public awareness, as evidenced by the "R-Word" Campaign, in which they try to eliminate the colloquial use of the word "retard."[10]

The disability movement for people with mental health issues[edit]

Advocates for the rights of people with mental health disabilities focus mainly on self-determination, and an individual’s ability to live independently.[11]

The right to have an independent life, using paid assistant care instead of being institutionalized, if the individual wishes, is a major goal of the disability rights movement, and is the main goal of the similar independent living and self-advocacy movements, which are most strongly associated with people with intellectual disabilities and mental health disorders. These movements have supported people with disabilities to live as more active participants in society.[12]

Access to education and employment[edit]

Access to education and employment have also been a major focus of the disability rights movement. Adaptive technologies, enabling people to work jobs they could not have previously, help create access to jobs and economic independence. Access in the classroom has helped improve education opportunities and independence for people with disabilities.

Freedom from discrimination and abuse[edit]

Freedom from abuse, neglect, and violations of a person's rights are also important goals of the disability rights movement. Abuse and neglect includes inappropriate seclusion and restraint, inappropriate use of force by staff and/or providers, threats, harassment and/or retaliation by staff or providers, failure to provide adequate nutrition, clothing, and/or medical and mental health care, and/or failure to provide a clean and safe living environment, as well as other issues which pose a serious threat to the physical and psychological well-being of a person with a disability. Violations of patients' rights include failure to obtain informed consent for treatment, failure to maintain the confidentiality of treatment records, and inappropriate restriction of the right to communicate and associate with others, as well as other restrictions of rights.

As a result of the work done through the disability rights movement, significant disability rights legislation was passed in the 1970s through the 1990s in the U.S.[13]


In the UK[edit]

Disability rights activist outside Scottish Parliament, 30 March 2013

In the United Kingdom, following extensive activism by people with disabilities over several decades, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA 1995) was passed. This made it unlawful in the United Kingdom to discriminate against people with disabilities in relation to employment, the provision of goods and services, education and transport. The Equality and Human Rights Commission provides support for this Act. Equivalent legislation exists in Northern Ireland, which is enforced by the Northern Ireland Equality Commission.

Following the introduction of the Bedroom Tax (officially the Under-occupancy penalty) in the Welfare Reform Act 2012, disability activists have played a significant role in the development of Bedroom Tax protests.[14]

In the US[edit]


   A sociological overview of the development of the rights movement is provided. The movement arose to combat the oppressive marginalization of persons with disabilities. It sought both to empower them to take control of their own lives and to influence social policies and practices to further the inclusion of individuals with disabilities into the societal mainstream. It developed in three phases. In the first phase, a definition of both what the problem is and of what its sources are, was offered. In the second, a consensus was established and acted upon as to a collective solution to the problem. In the third phase, it responded to the aftermath of new policies and practices.

Keywords: disability rights movement, marginalization, oppression

This paper provides a sociological overview, based on the work of Fuller & Myers (1941), Blumer (1971), Mauss (1975), and Spector & Kitsuse (1977), of the development of a particular social movement, the disability rights movement in the United States. Of course, the United States is but one of the many countries in which such a movement has arisen (See: Charlton 1998; Newell 1999; Cooper 1999; Jayasooria 1999; Hayashi and Masako, 2001; and Gottlieb, 2001). As with many social movements, the disability rights movement arose to offer solutions to a social problem, viz., the oppressive marginalization of persons with disabilities. Its solution is basically, albeit not entirely, twofold. First, to empower persons with disabilities to take control of their own lives; and, second, to influence social policies and practices so as to further "the integration and full inclusion of individuals with disabilities into the mainstream of American society," as is now put in federal law (amended Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title VII, Chapter 1, Section 701).

The disability rights movement, while by no means a monolith, is one whose slogan may well be that cited by Charlton, "Nothing about us without us," an expression he traces (1998: 3) to an international disability rights conference. In sum, then, disability rights movements seeks to replace oppression with empowerment, and, marginalization with full inclusion.

As with the development of any social movement, that of the disability rights movement can be said to develop in phases (Fuller & Myers 1942, Blumer 1971, Mauss 1975: 57-70, and Spector & Kitsuse 1977). In particular, the disability rights movement can be said to entail three phases: 1) definition of the problem; 2) solutions; and 3) aftermath. In the first phase, the movement offers a definition of the problem which involves a statement of both what the problem is, and what its sources are. In the second phase, a consensus is established and acted upon that not only is something wrong, but that something ought to be done about it on a collective, not individual, basis. Generally, the second phase can be said to end with the enactment of appropriate law, i.e., law which seeks to redress the grievances identified by the movement and legitimates solutions it supports. Indeed, the "volume and depth" of such appropriate laws may well be, as Mauss (1975:70) suggests, "the most important indicator of the 'success' of a social problems-movement." Nevertheless, the second phase may also spawn solutions involving non-governmental organizations as well.

In the case at hand, the disability rights movement, the first two phases entail the establishment of a consensus that without the protection of the law, persons with disabilities will be subject to an oppressive marginalization; and that the adoption of new public policy and practices are needed to eliminate, or at least reduce, the problem. It also spawned the Independent Living Movement.

Unfortunately, even years after the successful conclusion of its second phase, social movements often find problems have been more often ameliorated than solved. Moreover, solutions to old problems can bring new problems in their wake. There is, then, a third phase of a social movement, that of dealing with the aftermath of new policies and practices. The aftermath generally involves dealing with both remnants of the old problem, e. g., some oppressive marginalization remains, and new problems, that arise out of conditions created by the solution, perhaps, including a backlash seeking a return to the status quo ante. For example, affirmative action attacked discriminatory college admissions practices, but, in its wake, came questions about the abilities of the students admitted as a result of affirmative action. Consequently, in some places, notably California, affirmative action itself came to be seen as a problem to be eliminated.

Of course, the development of a social movement may be uneven. Calls for governmental action may come before there is a clear understanding of the problem the action is to solve. Some, for example, would argue that those who call for school vouchers paid for by the state or federal government have not shown how vouchers will help and/or that the state of American schools warrants such "drastic" action. In sum, a sociological analysis of the development of a social movement need not be a social history of its development. What follows, then, is a sociological, but, not necessarily a chronological, analysis of the disability rights movement.

Phase I: Definition of the Problem

As indicated above, a social movement seeking the solution of a social problem will develop an understanding of the problem and sources. That is, the movement will define the problem by explaining both what it thinks is wrong, and what it regards as the sources of the problem (see: Fuller & Myers 1941, Blumer 1971, and Spector & Kitsuse 1977: 130-158). In the case of the disability rights movement, the problem is that persons with disabilities are marginalized and, consequently, oppressed. The sources of these problems, as with related problems such as racism and sexism, are said to be both constituted on a personal or interpersonal level and constructed by institutional practices (Oliver 1990: 82-83). That is, from the standpoint of the disability rights movement, the oppressive marginalization of persons with disabilities is, in part, rooted in the prejudices or misconceptions, but, also, in the good intentions, in the minds of persons without a disability as they are manifest in their interactions with persons with disabilities.

However, it is also rooted and constructed by the dominant or hegemonic ideas and practices, which Berger & Luckmann (1966: 45) term a "plausibility structure". Such a structure provides for unobtrusive control of the premises upon which decisions are rendered plausible and, thus, acceptable (see: Perrow 1986 128-130). That is, the dominant ideas and practices, the plausibility structure, by virtue of its control over the definition of the situation of persons with disabilities, enables otherwise decent people to adopt policies and programs which they regard as reasonable, plausible, but, which the movement views as a major source of the oppressive marginalization of persons with disabilities. Consequently, "the oppression of people with disabilities does not [always] derive from a backward set of attitudes." To the contrary, "it is the product of [the] dominant culture" which even though often well-meaning, nevertheless, "marginalizes people" with disabilities (Charlton 1998: 82).

Marginalization and Oppression In its first phase, the disability rights movement, as noted above, defined the claim that persons with disabilities are: 1) subject to marginalization; and 2) are, consequently, oppressed. In this phase, then, marginalization was first identified and its oppressive nature exposed. And in order to understand the problems encountered by persons with disabilities, the disabilities rights movements makes important distinctions between: 1) impairment and disability, and, 2) stigmatization and marginalization.

The disability rights movement generally accepts the definitions of "impairment" and "disability" offered by UPIAS (Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation 1976: 14 as quoted in Barton 1998: 56). Specifically, "impairment" is the condition of a person "lacking part or all of limb, organ or mechanism of the body." "Mechanisms of the body" may be sight, hearing or some higher cognitive function such as reading. "Disability" is "the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a contemporary social organization which . . . excludes [people with physical impairments] from participation in the mainstream of social activities."

Social organization is here understood as a combination of the prevailing mode of doing things, the social structure, and the prevailing ideas of what is right, normal or otherwise appropriate behavior, the normative structure. The social structure refers to how things are done; the normative order, to how they ought to be done. The social structure and/or the normative order may reflect not only prevailing wisdom, but prevailing prejudices and stereotypes.

In any case, where floors above the ground floor of a building can be reached by use of a stairway, the use of stairs is part of the social structure as well as that of the building's physical structure. Where use of any other means of entry is seen as improper or inappropriate sloth, use of the stairs may also be part of the normative order. Where elevators are widely available in addition to stairs and an acceptable mode of entry to upper floors, then using stairs may not be part of either the social structure or the normative order. Furthermore, paraplegia, which is an impairment in any case, is rendered a disability only where elevators are not available or their use frowned upon.

The distinction between impairment and disability is made very clear in the classic study of the place of deaf people in the mainstream of the towns of West Tisbury and Chilmark, Massachusetts (Groce 1985). In these towns, there were many people who were congenitally deaf. However, since everyone in these towns spoke sign language, they were not disabled, they were not excluded from the mainstream of social activities in their respective towns. Conversely, left-handedness may be a disability where, as was noted in recent testimony before New York City's city council (Bumiller 2000: B4), door handles, bannisters, guard rails, or a computer mouse, are designed for right-handed people. However, it is not an impairment as no "limb, organ or mechanism of the body" is lacking.

Social attitudes may also exclude individuals from the mainstream of society and, thus, disable them. Left-handed people were once suspect. The term "sinister" derives from the Latin for "on the left hand" (Urdang 1968: 1228). And teachers used to do their utmost to encourage, even require, left-handed students to write with their right hand. Clearly, then, the status of a particular condition may change over time.

Poor eyesight and the consequent use of corrective lenses is a case in point. That is, "spectacles are [now] a necessary aid for many with a visual impairment, but they have been so 'normalized' that wearing glasses [or contact lenses] is no longer regarded as a mark of a disabled person . . ." (Barnes, Mercer & Shakespeare 1999: 25).

"Impairment," then, is a physical or biological condition, including, of course, cognitive impairment. "Disability," is a social condition, part and parcel of the prevailing social organization. While certainly desirous of the elimination of both impairments and of disabilities, the disability rights movement focuses on the latter.

In addition to the distinction between impairment and disability, the understanding of the disability rights movement is also informed by the distinction between stigmatization and marginalization. Stigmatization is the process whereby an individual comes to be viewed as having "an attribute [a stigma] that is deeply discrediting" (Goffman 1965: 4). "The central feature of the stigmatized individual's life . . . is a question of . . . 'acceptance.' Those who have dealings with him[/her] fail to accord him[/her] the respect and regard which" would otherwise be their due (Goffman 1965: 8).

Marginalization is the process whereby one is kept outside, on the margins of, activities in the mainstream of one's society. It is a process which denies one effective "citizenship . . . resources . . . [and] access to education, employment, housing and other areas of . . . life" (Williams 1998: 17). In short, a marginalized person is excluded from the mainstream of the polity and economy of his/her society. Moreover, marginalization deprives one of autonomy over one's life.

Stigmatization and marginalization are each a process which works to exclude persons with impairments from participation in the mainstream of social activities. Each, then, is a process which disables people. The essential difference between the two is that stigmatization generally occurs in the realm of primary groups, those involving face-to-face interpersonal encounters such as with family, friends, between neighbors or informal groups in an otherwise formal work setting where interaction "is typically spontaneous, informal and personal" (Michener & Delamater 1999: 318).

Marginalization generally occurs in the realm of secondary groups, those in which interactions "tend to be formal, impersonal and non-spontaneous" (Michener & DeLamater 1999: 318) such as in a bureaucracy. Moreover, marginalization generally refers to one's relationship to the economy and the polity of one's own society. Thus, in a marginalized world, "employers turn away qualified and competent workers simply because they are disabled" (Hunt 1998: 14). It is also a world in which public policy concerning people with disabilities is established, e.g., at school board meetings, without their participation in the policy making process; a world, in which with respect to people with disabilities, much about them is indeed done without them.

While the disability rights movement would prefer that people with disabilities are neither stigmatized nor marginalized, given its primary concerns with the exercise of economic and political rights, the rights to a job and to having a voice, the rights to autonomy, self-sufficiency (independence) and self-determination, it has "not found stigma a helpful or useful concept." The analysis of stigmatization focuses on primary or interpersonal relations, and not on political or economic rights (Oliver 1990: 68). The movement, then, focuses on marginalization.

The goal of the disability rights movement is, then, the elimination, or at least amelioration, of the disabling marginalization of persons with impairments, and, thereby, to empower them to influence social policies and practices so as to further the integration and full inclusion of individuals with disabilities into the mainstream of American society. Concomitantly, it is to facilitate their taking control of their own lives. That is, the goal is to enable persons with disabilities to be productive, contributing citizens who "choose a way of life that confronts all the options and risks throughout . . . life that are inherent to living in, rather than outside [on the margins of] society" (Brisenden 1998: 26). Thus, the movement's goal is to create a society in which persons with disabilities can truly say, "we are able to take responsibility for our own lives, . . . do not need or want [others] to manage our affairs; we best understand what is best for us; we . . . control our own organizations and programs and influence . . . government funding, public policy, and economic enterprises that directly affect us" (Charlton 1998: 128). In order to attain its goal, then, the movement has sought, first to explain why marginalization is oppressive, and, then, to identify its root source.

From the standpoint of the disability rights movement, the right and ability to exercise autonomy over one's own life is the basic, defining, characteristic of what it means to be human. Marginalization (and, for that matter, stigmatization) is, therefore, oppressive. It is dehumanizing in that it deprives persons with disabilities of their autonomy, their ability both to make their own meaningful choices, free of unwarranted constraint, and to carry them out. Furthermore, since, as indicated above, marginalization precludes one from confronting the risks that are inherent in living a life and the failures that selecting a poor risk can bring, it is oppressive. "Without the possibility of failure, the disabled person lacks . . . the ultimate mark of humanity, the right to choose for good or evil" (DeJong 1983: 20). The disability movement, then, can be seen as an "incarnation of an old theme in American life the idea of self-help" or autonomy (Zola 1983: 49). "There has," as Varela (1983: 48) observes, "always been someone, somewhere fighting against laws, attitudes and practices that restrict personal autonomy," and are, thereby, oppressive.

To succeed in the fight against such oppression, the movement needed to demonstrate that the oppression of persons with disabilities is "related to an ideology or group of ideologies which justify and perpetuate" it (Abberley 1967: 7). That is, to succeed as a social movement, the disability rights movement had to identify the ideas which exert unobtrusive control over the premises defining the issues which concern them. It needs to do so because these controlling ideas constitute a structure of policy and practice, i.e., a plausibility structure which renders it plausible for ordinary, well-intentioned people to accept and put into practice ideas which the movement regards as oppressive.

The disability rights movement has generally identified the medical or rehabilitative model of disability as the main basis for regarding impairment, and, the ensuing disability, as a personal tragedy rather than as a the result of social oppression. Thus, the medical or rehabilitative model makes it plausible, through control of premises as to the nature of being disabled, for otherwise well-intentioned people to see as acceptable what the movement regards as oppressive, viz., the marginalization of people with disabilities as people in need of individual care and not as people in need of collective efforts to ensure their rights as citizens.

The Medical Model as an Oppressive Plausibility Structure The focus of the medical model is, of course, on impairment, the physical or biological condition of people with disabilities. Moreover, the medical model views impairment as a condition which can be, and, more importantly, ought to be repaired, after which the individual may be rehabilitated and returned to "normal life," or as close to it as possible. In other words, the medical model treats a person with an impairment as one would a person with a illness such as measles. Consequently, the medical model calls for a person with an impairment/disability to act as a sick person or patient is expected to act, that is, to assume the "sick role."

The "sick role," as described in Parsons' classic description (1951: 436-437) consists of four components. The first two provide a sick person with "privileges and exemptions" (Parsons 1951: 437; see also Crewe et al. 1983: 17). These exemptions are: 1) "the exemption from normal . . . responsibilities . . . relative to the nature and severity of the illness [or impairment];" and 2) the exemption from moral accountability for the illness [impairment] (Crewe et al p. 17). That is, there is no expectation that one can take care of oneself and nor is there the expectation that one can do what needs to be done. The second exemption provides "a bridge to the acceptance of 'help'" (Parsons 1951: 437). Indeed, given the second two components of the sick role, the "acceptance of 'help'" becomes obligatory.

The last two of the four components of the sick role identified by Parsons define the obligations which a "sick" or impaired person is expected to assume in order to preclude abusing his/her privileges and exemptions. Specifically, the impaired (sick) person is: 1) obligated "to want to 'get well'" and to define "being ill as itself undesirable" (Parsons 1951: 437); and 2) obligated "to seek technically competent help, . . . [usually] that of a physician and to cooperate with him[/her] in . . . trying to get well" (Parsons 1951: 437). As a consequence of these obligations, the impaired, or so-called sick person, is expected to view being impaired (sick) as "an unfortunate state . . . to get out of as expeditiously as possible" (Parsons p. 437). In other words, the "sick role is intended to be a temporary one" (Crewe et al. 1983: 17) of dependency on the medical profession to ameliorate or cure.

The medical model, then, constitutes a plausibility structure, a set of policies and procedures, whose implicit premises, namely, those defining the privileges and obligations of the sick role, unobtrusively control, indeed, oppress, persons with impairments and render them disabled and dehumanized. Unfortunately, "the sick role cancels the [impaired] person's obligation to take charge of his or her own affairs." Indeed, it encourages them "to accept the dependency under the sick role as normative for the duration" of the impairment (Crewe et al 1983: 17).

However, as Kassenbaum & Baumann suggest (1965: 18), where the "illness" or impairment is "not temporary, . . . [sick] role- expectations are clearly inapplicable." An impairment, of course, may be anything but temporary, it may exist for a lifetime. Moreover, defining the problems facing persons with disabilities as a "medical problem presumes a corresponding solution . . . the domination of [their] lives by a vast army of allied [medical or health] professionals" (Barnes et al., 1999: 25). The impaired (sick) person is, then, passive, acted upon, by technically competent health professionals, rather than active on his/her own behalf. Consequently, there is a form of paternalism which, as Charlton (1998; 53) notes, works to view "people with disabilities . . . [as] unable to take responsibility for their own lives." In short, the sick role works to deprive an impaired person of the autonomy, the control of one's own affairs, which is the defining mark of human personhood.

In its initial phase, then, the disability rights movement came to view the medical model as oppressive, a major source of the exclusion from the mainstream of society, the domain of healthy, unimpaired people; and, therefore as a major source of the oppressive marginalization of people with impairments. In its second phase, the movement sought to undercut the hegemony of the medical model and to replace it with a new model. It also called for legislation which would enable those with disabilities to claim their rights as citizens and to attain a productive role in the nation's economy and for the creation of independent living centers in which the new model would be employed and which would empower those with disabilities as citizens with a productive role in the nation's economy.

Phase II: Proposed Solutions

In all, the disability rights movement proposed solution to the problem of the oppressive marginalization of people with disabilities entails a three pronged approach: 1) the ideological, challenging the medical model and proposing to replace it with a new one, the social model, as the proper model for understanding disability; 2) the legislative, proposing new laws, e.g., the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to guarantee the rights of those with impairments; and 3) the organizational, proposing the creation of Independent Living Centers in which those with impairments are be responsible for their own success (or failure).

The Social Model The old, medical model, as noted above, is a plausibility structure, i.e., a set of policies and procedures, whose premises unobtrusively control the lives of people with impairments. Indeed, it is a structure which oppresses such persons by rendering them disabled and dehumanized. Specifically, according to the medical model, the problems facing persons with a disabilities are, simply, medical problems. Medical problems, of course, call for treatment by an array of medical professionals. Submission to professional treatment, as viewed by the medical model, renders the impaired (sick) person passive, unable to exhibit the defining mark of personhood, the control of one's own affairs. Consequently, the disability rights movement views the medical model as oppressive, a major source of the exclusion of people with impairments disabilities from the mainstream, the putative domain of "healthy," unimpaired people.

In the view of the disability rights movement, then, the medical model is part of the problem, not the solution. A solution would require that the model be replaced. Efforts to replace it were twofold. First, efforts were made to demonstrate that not only was the medical model oppressive, as noted above, but, when applied to a person with a disability, it was based on a false premise and, therefore, inappropriate. Second, a new, social, model was proposed to replace the old, medical, model. The new model was designed to be liberating, not oppressive, a basis for inclusion, not marginalization.

The medical model was shown to be inappropriate in that it posits that the condition, the impairment or "illness," in question is temporary. Thus, according to the medical model, a person with an impairment could plausibly or reasonably be asked to forgo control of one's own life, handing that control over to the medial professional who would treat the condition, the impairment. After all, the condition was only "temporary" and would be cured soon enough. Consequently, the pain of being deprived of autonomy, of control over one's life, the usual price for the "privilege" of receiving medical treatment for a sickness, would be temporary. Under the medical model, the pain of losing one's autonomy is analogous to pain following a serious operation, or to the side effect of an otherwise beneficial, short-lived, medical treatment: unwanted, unpleasant, but unavoidable, and, thus, an acceptable, consequence of a successful treatment. However, many, if not most, impairments are forever.

Blindness, multiple sclerosis, developmental disorders, for example, are rarely cured. Thus, if the medical model prevails, a person with an impairment might, justifiably, be asked to forgo his/her autonomy forever. Those in the disability rights movement did not wish to pay such a price, especially, when the treatment of an impairment as a temporary misfortune or ailment, rather than as what it so often, a long-term, even lifetime, condition is considered a "mis-treatment."

The demonstration that the medical model which, while suitable for a truly temporary, short-lived misfortune, is unsuitable when applied to those with a long-term impairment was a key facet of the disability rights movement's efforts to provide an ideological basis for its efforts to provide a solution to the problems facing those with disabilities. A second, key facet was to offer its own model of what disability is and of how to respond to it. Indeed, following Turner's (1969: 391) observation, the disability rights movement could only be a "a significant social movement" if it could offer "a revision in the manner in which . . . people look at some misfortune," here long-term impairment, "seeing it . . . an injustice which is intolerable in society."

The revision offered by the movement, the social model, holds that disability is not a tolerable, necessary result of an individual's impairment, but something created, in large part, by a society's response to the impairment. Indeed. it is a society's response to an impairment which disables a person, not the impairment itself. Moreover, such a societal response brings with it the injustice of unwarranted denial of the autonomy of people with an impairment. Moreover, if, as the disability rights movement contends, disability is a social oppression, "then disabled people will be seen as the collective victims of . . . society rather as individual victims of circumstance (Oliver 1990: 2). Moreover, if disability is a result of societally induced oppression, societal action, such as passing appropriate laws, would be called for to facilitate the elimination, or, at least, reduction, of that oppression. It was important, then, for the movement to offer a new definition, a new model of disability.

The new model, as indicated above, is based on two premises: 1) social conditions convert an impairment into a disability, not the impaired person; and, 2) the focus of efforts on behalf of those with a so-called disability should be rooted in respect for their personhood, i.e., on their ability and right to make their own, autonomous, decisions as to how they are to live with their so-called disability, and not on the impairment per se. That is, it is not the "welfare of the handicapped" that is at issue, but "the human rights of people with disabilities" (Charlton 1998: 115).

In other words, the first premise of the social model is that disability is both a social construction and a social creation (see; Oliver 1990: 82-83) Disability is constructed, individually and collectively, as a consequence of views held by people without a disability and expressed both in hostile social attitudes and in the stigmatization of those with a so-called disability in interpersonal encounters or primary relationships. However, disability is also a social creation in that it is a consequence of the laws, policies and institutionalized practices of society evident in the restrictions faced by those with disabilities in the secondary relationships which characterize the polity and the economy. In short, the first premise is that disability is not the direct result of impairment, but of social restrictions. Such restrictions may, for example,

   occur as a consequence of inaccessible built environments [no ramps or lifts to provide access for the handicapped], questionable notions of intelligence and social competence [the impaired are also stupid and incompetent, unable to care for themselves], the inability of the general population to use sign language, the lack of reading material in Braille or hostile public attitudes to people with non-visible disabilities [such as mental illness] (Oliver 1990: xiv).

In short, people with impairments "are disabled by a society that is geared to the needs of those who can walk, have perfect sight and hearing, can speak distinctly, and are intellectually dexterous" (Brisenden 1998: 23). Paul G. Hearne Leadership award from the American Association of People with Disabilities.[15] According to Triano, fifteen hundred people attended the parade.[15] Yoshiko Dart was the parade marshal.[16]

Exhibitions and collections[edit]

To mark the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History opened an exhibition that examined the history of activism by people with disabilities, their friends, and families to secure the civil rights guaranteed to all Americans. Objects on view included the pen President George H.W. Bush used to sign the Act and one of the first ultralight wheelchairs. The exhibition was designed for maximum accessibility. Web-based kiosks - prototypes for a version that will eventually be available to museums and other cultural institutions - provided alternate formats to experience the exhibition. The exhibition was open from July 6, 2000 to July 23, 2001.[17]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bagenstos, Samuel. Law and the Contradictions of the Disability Rights Movement (Yale University Press, 2009). ISBN 978-0-300-12449-1
  • Barnartt, Sharon N. and Scotch, Richard. Disability Protests: Contentious Politics 1970-1999 (Gallaudet University Press, 2001) ISBN 978-1-56368-112-7
  • Colker, Ruth and Milani, Adam. Everyday Law for Individuals with Disabilities (Paradigm Publishers, 2005). ISBN 978-1-59451-145-5
  • Fleischer, Doris Zames and Zames, Frieda. The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation (Temple University Press, 2nd Edition, 2011). ISBN 978-1-4399-0743-6
  • Johnson, Mary and The Ragged Edge Online Community. Disability Awareness - do it right! Your all-in-one how-to guide (The Advocado Press, 2006). ISBN 978-0-9721189-1-0
  • Johnson, Roberta Ann. "Mobilizing the Disabled.," in Social Movements of the Sixties and Seventies, edited by Jo Freeman (Longman, 1983), pp. 82–100; reprinted in Waves of Protest: Social Movements Since the Sixties edited by Jo Freeman and Victoria Johnson (Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), pp. 25–45. ISBN 978-0-8476-8748-0
  • Longmore, Paul, K. and Umansky, Laurie, editors, The New Disability History: American Perspectives (New York University Press, 2001). ISBN 978-0-8147-8564-5
  • O'Brien, Ruth. Crippled Justice: The History of Modern Disability Policy in the Workplace (University Of Chicago Press, 2001). ISBN 978-0-226-61659-9
  • Pelka, Fred. The ABC Clio Companion to the Disability Rights Movement (ABC-Clio, 1997). ISBN 978-0-87436-834-5
  • Pelka, Fred. What We Have Done: An Oral History of the Disability Rights Movement (Amherst, Boston MA: University of Massachusetts Press 2012). ISBN 978-1-55849-919-5
  • The Regents of the University of California. The Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement (Berkeley, CA: The University of California Berkeley, 2001). Web. Copyright © 2007 The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Document maintained on server: by The Bancroft Library.
  • Shapiro, Joseph P. No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement (Times Books, 1993). ISBN 978-0-8129-2412-1
  • Stroman, Duane. The Disability Rights Movement: From Deinstitutionalization to Self-Determination (University Press of America, 2003). ISBN 978-0-7618-2480-0


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  2. ^ Bagenstos, Samuel (2099). Law and the Contradictions of the Disability Rights Movement. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-12449-1.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
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  12. ^ Johnson, Roberta Ann (1999). Mobilizing the Disabled, in Waves of Protest: Social Movements Since the Sixties, pp. 25–45. Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-8476-8748-0. 
  13. ^ Fleischer, Doris (2001). The Disability Rights Movement. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 1-56639-812-6. 
  14. ^ Wynne-Jones, Ros (17 July 2013). "Bedroom tax protesters deliver letters on devastating effect on disabled people's lives". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
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  16. ^ "The Inaugural International Disability Pride Parade Unified in Pride Sunday, July 18, 2004 Chicago, Illinois". Retrieved July 11, 2013.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  17. ^ "The Disability Rights Movement". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 24 April 2012.