In the Journals

The Americans with Disabilities Act After 25 Years – A Special Issue of Disability Studies Quarterly

Twenty-Five Years After the ADA: Situating Disability in America’s System of Stratification
Michelle Maroto, David Pettinicchio

Americans with disabilities represent a significant proportion of the population. Despite their numbers and the economic hardships they face, disability is often excluded from general sociological studies of stratification and inequality. To address some of these omissions, this paper focuses on employment and earnings inequality by disability status in the United States since the enactment of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a policy that affects many Americans. After using Current Population Survey data from 1988-2014 to describe these continuing disparities, we review research that incorporates multiple theories to explain continuing gaps in employment and earnings by disability status. In addition to theories pointing to the so-called failures of the ADA, explanations also include general criticisms of the capitalist system and economic downturns, dependence on social welfare and disability benefits, the nature of work, and employer attitudes. We conclude with a call for additional research on disability and discrimination that helps to better situate disability within the American stratification system.

Disability, Poverty, and Material Hardship since the Passage of the ADA
Julia A. Rivera Drew

The past 25 years have seen an unprecedented expansion in formal civil rights for people with disabilities that, among other things, was predicted to improve their economic well-being. Studies of economic well-being among people with disabilities have traditionally focused on employment and earnings, despite the fact that a minority of people with disabilities are employed. More recent literature has expanded to include measures of income poverty and material hardship, but has not examined trends in these dimensions of economic well-being over time or across different groups of people with disabilities. The current study uses nationally representative data covering the 1993-2010 period to examine trends over time in cross-sectional and dynamic measures of income poverty, and multiple dimensions of material hardship. It also describes differences in time trends by education, sex, race/ethnicity, and employment status among people with disabilities in income poverty and any material hardship. Levels of both material hardship and income poverty are high across the entire period for all groups, but while material hardship remains at the same level between 1993 and 2010, income poverty declines. These findings show that there has been little improvement over the past two decades in the economic well-being of people with disabilities, and additional research is needed to understand the mechanisms that keep even groups that are relatively privileged — college graduates and full-time, full-year workers — at very low levels of economic well-being.

Unequal Treatment or Uneven Consequence: A Content Analysis of Americans with Disabilities Act Title I Disparate Impact Cases from 1992 – 2012
Sara P. Johnston

This study identified patterns and trends of litigation in all reported U.S. Appellate Court ADA cases charged under the theory of disparate impact (unintentional discrimination) from 1992 through 2012. The results produced four themes: accommodation(s); workplace culture, norms, and policies; judicial process; and policy space; and three relationships: gap-filling, weighing and balancing, and maintaining status quo versus effecting social change. The results may provide information about the types of workplace policies and procedures that are most frequently litigated. Disability scholars, advocates, and practitioners may be able to use the information to develop education and outreach strategies for employers on best practices for hiring, accommodating, and promoting employees with disabilities. The results may also be used to educate and inform advocates about the process of litigation. A greater understanding of how judges make decisions in a subset of ADA cases may increase employees with disabilities’ ability to self-advocate in the workplace.

Bodies in Contempt: Gender, Class and Disability Intersections in Workplace Discrimination Claims
Jenny Dick-Mosher

This article draws on theories of gendered organizations to examine discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace. A sample of 200 cases that document disability discrimination lawsuits was drawn from the Westlaw legal database. Each case was coded for gender, job, disability and discrimination type and analyzed using multinomial logistic models. Of those 200 cases, 34 were selected for in depth qualitative analysis. This study finds that disability type, job type, and gender do have an influence on the type of discrimination someone is likely to experience. In addition, the qualitative analysis finds that the social processes of discrimination differ based on job type and gender pointing to intersections of disability and class as well as gender and disability.

Beyond the Law: A Review of Knowledge, Attitudes and Perceptions in ADA Employment Research
Robert Gould, Sarah Parker Harris, Kate Caldwell, Glenn Fujiura, Robin Jones, Patrick Ojok, Katherine Perez Enriquez

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990) is the cornerstone of civil rights policy for people with disabilities. Although enforced through the justice system, the legacy of the ADA transcends well beyond its legal ramifications. The policy’s framework and the rhetoric of Disability Rights suggest both an embrace of the spirit and the letter of the law, or promulgating both legislative and cultural change to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities are met. In attempting to understand how and if such change has happened, researchers have gathered extensive evidence since 1990. Much of this research evidence, however, remains fragmented, under-utilized, and at times inconclusive. This article presents the results of a rapid evidence review of a sample of such research that is crucial to understand the ADA’s progress. The study examines evidence about the ADA’s influence on knowledge, attitudes and perceptions about employment of people with disabilities. The research illustrates the importance of moving beyond the law to incorporate changes in knowledge about the law, perceptions of employability, and workplace culture.

Leveling the Playing Field: Perspectives of People with Disabilities on Reasonable Accommodations Received to Engage in Public Recreation
Mary Ann Devine

According to the ADA, people with disabilities have the right to participate in public park and recreation services. Important gains in their access to activities of their choosing since the ADA was written into law, in part due to individuals being able to request reasonable accommodations. The purpose of this study was to understand the perspectives of people with disabilities who participate in public park and recreation services on whether their accommodation needs are met and if they are effective in facilitating meaningful recreation experiences. Participants reported requesting reasonable accommodations was a way to exercise civil rights and gain access to meaningful recreation activities. They also reported a duality in requesting accommodations in that they were met with confusion, lack of understanding, and reluctance. It is recommended that the park and recreation profession undergo a paradigm shift and embrace making reasonable accommodations as an important professional skill.

Access for All! Neuro-architecture and Equal Enjoyment of Public Facilities
Victoria Gillen

Since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990), many impaired Americans are no longer disabled by socially condoned conditions in the built environment. However, many people with cognitive and neurological impairments continue to face significant barriers to access, due to disabling environmental hyper-sensitivity and sensory processing disorders. These people are equally protected under the ADA, therefore mitigation is required. Neuroarchitecture, where consideration of the impact of the built environment on the central nervous system informs design paradigms, must complement current ADA compliance guidelines. This paper serves to open the topic to discussion, and is a call for attention, and action, for the removal of these generally unrecognized barriers to access and the equal use and enjoyment of public facilities.

“Most of Them Are Amateurs”: Women with Spinal Cord Injury Experience the Lack of Education and Training among Medical Providers While Seeking Gynecological Care
Heather Elise Dillaway, Catherine L. Lysack

Although the American Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990) became federal law more than two decades ago, individuals with disabilities continue to experience substandard healthcare. We use this article to hone in on disabled women’s experiences of seeking gynecological care and the access disparities they still face. The data for this qualitative study were gathered using in-depth interviews with 20 women living with spinal cord injuries in or around Detroit, Michigan. Each interviewee was questioned about overall health and physical functioning, accessibility of doctor offices, interactions with health care providers, and gynecological health-seeking behaviors. In this paper we report on women’s gynecological healthcare experiences and related attitudes and practices, and what women see as the primary structural and social barriers to comprehensive care. Findings echo past literature about the inaccessibility of doctor’s offices, including the lack of suitable exam tables. However, our findings also suggest that the lack of education and training among medical providers could be a key social barrier and determinant of whether individual women actually secure gynecological care.

“Just How Much Diversity Will the Law Permit?”: The Americans with Disabilities Act, Diversity and Disability in Higher Education
Lauren Shallish

Civil rights laws including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 worked to protect classes and individuals for whom discrimination had been documented. In an effort to further remedy educational inequality, colleges and universities increasingly used identity categories to enable access and participation in postsecondary life. In addition to anti-discrimination statutes, attention to marginalized groups evolved to include larger networks of academic and co-curricular support such as formations of identity centers, cultural events, fields of study and scholarships yet disability is largely absent from this work as much of higher education maintains a singular focus on legal compliance. This study investigates how disability law is conceived and enacted on five divergent campuses and how participants understood both the function of disability law and other cultural, social and political aspects of disability-related identities.

Disability Studies, Disability Services: Would Addressing the Gap in Professional Communication Impact Implementation of the ADA?
Christy Oslund

The Civil Rights Movement spurred social changes that impacted many, including people with disabilities; while the ADA ideally provides the groundwork for greater accessibility, accessibility is an ideal that is not yet fully realized. The professionals in Disability Studies and those in Disability Services are working in often parallel contexts with little overlap and still very limited intentional interaction. This article suggests possible goals that deliberate coalition forming between the fields could set that would facilitate greater accessibility to educational environments, coalitions being informed in part by the specialized knowledge that each field contributes. As happened during the Civil Rights Movement, ideas and processes which begin on campus then have an opportunity to be carried out into broader social contexts, increasing equitable access beyond campus settings and more fully realizing the goals of the ADA.

Disability Culture and the ADA
Steven E. Brown

This article begins with a personal, pre-Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) story of employment discrimination and how from it I became involved with the Disability Rights Movement. The narrative then moves into my finding, exploring and discussing the importance of Disability Culture. Finally, thoughts are shared about the intersection of Disability Culture with the ADA.