Disability Rights Paper Pt 3

December 24, 2006 at 5:55 am Leave a comment

The Americans with Disabilities Act

In the early 1980s Justin Dart began work on legislation that led to the ADA. At this time, many disability rights groups were pessimistic about the likelihood of passing comprehensive disability legislation, feared backlash and were concerned about enforcing protections that already existed under Section 504, and maintaining funding for disability services (Fleisher 2001). Pioneering activists had to convince others that a more dramatic change was possible. The 1980s was a conservative era, characterized by many cutbacks in social programs and backlash against the civil rights and women’s movements. So why was it that this time, support for disability rights arose? Instrumental in the push for the ADA was Evan Kemp, a Republican lawyer with cerebral palsy who convinced President George Bush Sr. to support the act by pointing out that most people with disabilities wanted to work and be independent (Shapiro 1994). In this way disability rights was re-framed to gain support from Republicans. Another factor is that disability touches everyone; many politicians had family members with disabilities or had some form of disability themselves. In this way the ADA gained bipartisan support, though there was also significant opposition from business interests like the Restaurant Association, the public transportation establishment, Greyhound Buses and more staunchly conservative members of the Republican party such as Pat Buchanan and Representative Dick Armey (Fleisher 2001).

There was however, a backlash to the changes brought by the ADA, one which still continues to this day. Many people who have argued against the ADA have misunderstood its intentions and exaggerated its costs and so-called “burden” upon society (Fleisher 2001).

Types of Activism: Conventional and Contemporary

As in other movements, in the disability rights movement, there are conventional and contemporary styled organizations. Conventional social movement organizations are characterized by a hierarchical, top-down structure and the use of lobbying and legal action as their main tactics. Contemporary activist groups are characterized by a loosely organized structure the use of consensus decision-making and direct action as a primary tactic. Some groups combine elements of both approaches. The two factions also often have philosophical division between those who advocate for inclusion in the existing socioeconomic order, and those who seek to more radical systemic change.

American Disabled for Accessible Public Transit (ADAPT) was founded in 1983 in Denver, Colorado (Fleischer 2001). It is a notable example of a contemporary style activist group. I noticed that ADAPT had some similarity in tactics and organization to the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP), though ADAPT predates ACT-UP so it’s possible it may have had some influence on it. ADAPT has often used theatrical tactics to get public and media attention such as people who use wheelchairs crawling up the steps of the U.S. Capitol, in a dramatic demonstration of the inaccessibility of the public sphere to millions of Americans. This tactic was criticized by other disability advocates who thought this made people with disabilities look helpless. ADAPT actually uses the perceived weakness of people with disabilities to its advantage. Often police are baffled to find people with often rather severe disabilities engaged in direct action, and feel too ashamed to arrest them. ADAPT was also one of the groups who fought for the ADA (Fleischer 2001).

In 1990 the name was changed to stand for American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today. Now that accessibility to public transportation was less of a problem, ADAPT’s members became concerned about the thousands of people living in nursing homes due to not being able to afford personal attendants that enable them to live independently. In 1997, ADAPT pressured Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich into introducing the Medicaid Community Attendant Services Act (MiCasa) by occupying his office.


Entry filed under: Disability Rights, Disability/Health.

Disability Rights Paper Pt 2 Disability Rights Paper Pt 4

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