A Brief History of Disability Law
- Before the 1970s, disability was often defined in medical terms as a chronic functional incapacity presumed to result from a physical or mental impairment. This “medical model” presumed that the primary problem faced by people with disabilities was the incapacity to work, and government’s role was to financially support citizens who could not do so through no fault of their own, to help repair and rehabilitate their “damaged bodies and minds” (Scotch 2000).
- In 1973, a major paradigm shift occurred from the “medical model” to the “social model”, where disability is seen as resulting not from impairment per se, but from the interaction between the impairment and the surrounding structural and attitudinal environment. The environment—combined with the impairment—results in a societal evaluation labeling the person as having a disability. The consequences of physical and mental impairment for social participation are shaped by the expectations and attitudes of the larger society, often resulting in barriers for those who do not conform to expectations (Scotch 2000). Further, people with disabilities are regarded as a minority that may be subjected to unfair discrimination. The role of government is to protect the group’s civil rights for political, economic, and social participation.
- State/regional-level intervention, designed to bring together individuals with disabilities, their family members, service providers and employers involves training on cultural awareness, rights and responsibilities, culturally competent service provision, empowerment, and best practices. Improving the quality of vocational services and strengthening the human capital skills of individuals with disabilities must go hand-in-hand with educating employers about employing individuals with disabilities and creating accessible and supportive workplaces.
- In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) extended civil right protections to persons with physical and mental disabilities persons, by mandating that businesses modify jobs, facilities, programs and policies to ensure equal access and opportunity.
Funding provided By