On November 5, 2019 SPSSI sponsored a congressional seminar on the topic of ableism. We had more than 70 attendees in the audience, including a range of staffers from House and Senate personal officers, congressional committees, federal agencies (like the National Council of Disability), advocacy organizations, and other scientific associations. Dr. Michelle R. Nario-Redmond, a professor at Hiram College and author of the recently released SPSSI volume Ableism: The Causes and Consequences of Disability Prejudice, served as our invited speaker.
The event came at an important point in time. Next summer, Americans will mark the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the major piece of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. While this anniversary helps us recognize how far we have come in working to ensure that all people can participate fully in society, this anniversary also reminds us that there is much yet to be done: both within and outside of the ADA.
For example, Rebecca Cokley of the Center for American Progress explains in 10 Disability Policy Questions Every Presidential Candidate Should Answer that after almost 30 years of the ADA, “60 percent to 80 percent of polling places still remain inaccessible, leaving most disabled Americans unable to access the ballot box or see who they actually voted for.” Thanks to a loophole in the Fair Labor Standards Act, It is still legal for disabled people to earn pennies an hour. Adding insult to injury, the addition of “asset limits and work requirements to programs that help people with disabilities and their families access food, housing, and health care means that folks in need are constantly on the edge of economic instability.” (For a more in-depth look at this problem, see this 2019 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities regarding recent state changes to Medicaid eligibility.)
Interested in learning more about disability policy, particularly within the context of recent scholarship? Check out the special issue of JSI published this fall on the topic of ableism. In their introduction to the special issue, issue editors Drs. Kathleen R. Bogart and Dana S. Dunn explain one major problem they see with current policy: “The ADA places the onus on the disabled individual to demand access rather than requiring universal design… There is a need to shift from a medical model focus on individual pathology, which places the burden on the individual to seek accommodations to a social model focus highlighting universal design, which would create a new norm of accessibility.”