The American Disability Rights Legislative Schema

Activist Judy Heumann told her experiences to Congress, she refused to be ignored.  Heumann told Congress “how she had been stopped at the schoolhouse steps at the age of five because she was in a wheelchair and the principal of her elementary school
deemed her a fire hazard’” (Jeon and Haider-Markel 220). Poignant narratives about discrimination and struggles faced by individuals with disabilities comprise one form of disability activism. This activism exposes the areas that are in need of legislative amelioration. Blatantly discriminating against people based upon labels such as gender or racial identity is viewed by society as antithetical to our national values, as marring the American ‘vision’. Yet there is still marked disagreement regarding the arenas in which people with intellectual disabilities should have freedoms and which activities society
deems appropriate for inclusion. The lengthy tradition in America of systematically relegating individuals with disabilities to inferior legal statuses and Congressional neglect of this group has begun to change in the last half century. What led the status quo of ignoring intellectual disability in Congress to erode? I posit that disability activist groups provoke and transform disability legislation. The United States Congress responds to the
voices of disability advocacy groups.

Since my first year of college, I have had the pleasure of being friends with Frankie. We met through the Best Buddies chapter at my school. The Best Buddies program pairs college members with individuals in the community who have intellectual or developmental disabilities. Frankie’s joy at going to dinner or getting coffee enables me to find happiness and appreciation. Frankie inspired me to look at disability rights interest groups and the influence of their strength on legislative measures.

To accomplish the project, I am using a few data bases. To measure the strength of the disability rights groups, I look at the number of disability rights interest groups (over
time), the number of protests by these groups, and the participation of the groups in congressional hearings. The Encyclopedia of Associations contains the information for the volume of disability rights groups and the Policy Agendas project data contains the information for the other variables. The amount of “disability rights” legislation will form my dependent variable; however, I am not sure if I will use the proposed legislation or restrict the variable to passed legislation. Another research issues that I have reached is determining how to incorporate “significance” into measuring the interest groups and the
legislation. I do not want the Americans with Disabilities act to have the same weight as a less monumental piece of legislation. I look forward to collaborating with you all virtually and in D.C.!


About marykroeger

Hi everyone! I attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and I will graduate in 2012. I am majoring in Political Science and Economics and have a minor in Statistics. For the program, I will research the influence that disability rights interest groups have on national disability rights legislation. My participation in Chapel Hill's chapter of Best Buddies (an organization that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships with people with intellectual or developmental disabilities) prompted my interest in this research area. After graduation, I plan on attending graduate school for Political Science. I am looking forward to the Program!
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3 Responses to The American Disability Rights Legislative Schema

  1. Kirstin says:

    Awww, this subject is near and dear to my heart. One of my favorite and most intellectually challenging professors, Paul Longmore, was paralyzed from the neck down from polio as a kid. One of the things that absolutely astonished me was he wrote his entire dissertation with a pen in his mouth.

    He was a big activist for disabled people. This first link is about him, the second is an article he wrote for the Huffington Post about this issue, and the third is an NPR piece about him that may help you come up with some inspiration.

    There is a documentary I saw about a year ago talking about disability and the idea of “rugged individualism.” While it was more talking about physical disability, it shed some light on how American society generally views disability. If you’re interested, I can try to get in contact with that professor or a former classmate to find the name.

    ❤ Paul Longmore. Rest in peace.

  2. Hi Mary,

    I think this is a truly great and important topic in the context of the fellowship, one which seeks to highlight topics often overlooked or in a new light. I myself considered a review of the ADA and changes in the American public since. One topic that particularly stood out to me was the rise in prenatal testing and the unprecedented power individuals are now given to determine “defects” among society. I would argue with this power we as a society have regressed in how we view persons with disabilities, and become less supportive of families and individuals who deal with these issues. I would be interested to see if you come across these topics in your study of disabilities rights groups. In particular, I know advocates Adrienne Asch and David Wasserman have written extensively on this.

    I would love to hear about the progress of your study and findings. Good luck and I look forward to working with you.

  3. marykroeger says:

    Hi Emily and Kirstin,

    Thank you both for your comments!

    Kirstin- I am actually using one of Paul Longmore’s books (Why I Burned my Book and Other Essays on Disability History) as a main source for my project. I cannot believe that you had him and I’m looking forward to talking more to you about him. I am gathering the data for the project right now, so all of the inspiration that I can get would be great.

    See you soon!

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