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Ableism: The Causes and Consequences of Disability Prejudice

Below is an interview with Dr. Michelle Nario-Redmond , author of a new book,  Ableism: The Causes and Consequences of Disability Prejudice (2019, Wiley-Blackwell).

Tell me a little about yourself! 

I’m a 55-year old Latina, first generation college student, and a Social Psychologist who graduated from the University of Kansas where Dr. Beatrice Wright taught the lessons of Kurt Lewin: No research without action.

You’re a professor of psychology at Hiram College specializing in disability studies, prejudice, and stereotyping. How did you get involved in disability studies? 

I came to disability studies in the late 1990s after hearing Professor Carol Gill speak on disability identity at a psychology conference. I found a very welcoming community of mentors through the Society of Disability Studies (including Simi Linton, Adrienne Asch, Devva Kasnitz, Anne Finger, Art Blaser, David Mitchell, Carrie Sandhal, Alison Kafer, Mark Sherry, Corbett O’Toole, Beth Haller—among so many others) who encouraged my research. Their work changed the landscape of my parenting, my scholarship and my professional goals. As a parent of a 24-year old proud disabled woman, I am grateful every day to those who came before me.

You have a new book out, Ableism: The Causes and Consequences of Disability Prejudice (2019, Wiley-Blackwell) . Tell me about the history of the idea for this book. Was the end result what you imagined your book would be?

This book was the result of my hoarding of all the scientific literature on disability prejudice I could get my hands on, primarily for teaching purposes. I have long been interested in disentangling the multiple determinants and manifestations of ableist attitudes, and the seeming contradictions between hostile and benevolent reactions to those who differ from the norm. In 2012, after reviewing Dr. Roselyn Darling’s book Spoiled Identity: Self and Disability in a Changing Society , and was encouraged to propose a book of my own, though my own research was limited to studies on disability stereotypes, disability identity, higher education, and problems of disability simulation. At the time, I hadn’t thought about the prospect of summarizing the rich but fragmented literature on prejudice against disabled people, but I soon realized that this was a golden opportunity since there was no other book like it on the market. I began in 2014, and it took me five years to complete. The road of a solo book project is lonely but thankfully I had some amazing collaborators including Dr. Arielle Silverman , who co-wrote the chapter: Contending with Ableism . Every chapter of this book is infused with disabled voices who shared their experiences with multiple forms of ableism; however, this particular chapter focuses on the effects of ableism, and patterns of response that range from internalized stigma to collective action for disability rights. My disabled students were also instrumental, particularly in the creation of each chapter’s Activist Pages where readers can find resources for change.

With your background in psychology, what led you to examine ableism? How is your understanding of ableism through a psychological lens different from other ways of analyzing it?  

Frankly, I was frustrated that my discipline of social psychology (which focuses on how the social context affects individual perceptions and actions) had almost exclusively studied disability as a stigmatized trait associated with particular impairments like blindness, paraplegia or autism. By failing to conceptualize disability as a minority group membership, questions about ableism toward disabled people as a whole were just not being considered. Specifically, the psychology of prejudice was not articulating disability as a disadvantaged minority status influenced by intergroup power dynamics and the material environment in ways that shape ableist attitudes, stereotypic beliefs, and discriminatory policies.

Prejudice is so much more than negative attitudes that occur between individuals interacting—it depends on motivations that derive from belonging to particular groups of “us” and “them”. This is now changing as scholars begin to recognize that our understanding is incomplete without an analysis of the experiences of disabled people as a group to uncover the broader social and political implications of ableism and its effects on the well-being and advancement of people with disabilities, including those with mental health conditions.

My training as a social psychologist of intergroup relations (e.g., racism, sexism) has positioned me to leverage theories and research at the intersections of disability studies, social, and community psychology. As the legislative landscape has changed since the Americans with Disabilities Act so have the dynamics shifted between disabled and nondisabled groups, altering the forms that ableism can take. In addition to fear and curiosity, we also see inspirational reactions, jealous envy, and the use of specific beliefs to justify confinements and other dehumanizing actions. An emerging field, “the Social Psychology of Disability” is beginning to explore the cognitive mechanisms, myths, values, attributions, and emotional reactions that lead to biased intergroup judgments, group identity formation, self-stereotyping, and the tensions between interpersonal liking and collective action for change.  

For people unfamiliar with ableism, how would you describe it and what are some examples of it that you’ve personally encountered and observed?  

I prefer a simple definition as the prejudice and discrimination toward individuals and groups simply because they are disabled. Similar to definitions of prejudice more broadly, the ABC’s of ableism include our Affective, emotional and attitudinal reactions; the Behaviors, actions, practices and policies that discriminate, and the Cognitive beliefs, stereotypes and ideologies that go beyond general negativity. Here’s an illustration from chapter 1: “Imagine meeting someone with a disability: if feelings of disgust or pity emerge (affect), one may offer to help or simply avoid interacting (behavior) – especially if one believes the person with a disability needs assistance or can’t think clearly (cognition). I’ve observed ableism in both hostile and benevolent forms which I describe more below.

How does ableism intersect and relate to other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, ageism, classism, and homophobia (among others)? What is important to keep in mind when talking about one form of prejudice and how they are linked to others?  

There is power in numbers and it is critical that we move beyond a politics of disability that fails to recognize how the manifestations and solutions to ableism are complicated by race, gender, sexuality, class, age, and other minority statuses. We need to be forging more alliances and engaging with other civil rights movements including Black Lives Matter, AIM, Trans and Gay Pride, Grey Panthers, and #MeToo to encourage more voices at the table. There is always a tension between goals of inclusivity and the maintenance of subcultural community spaces, but disability is everywhere, and a group anyone can join, disability has the power to unite if people can get beyond their fears and misconceptions. We need to be asking: who is not at the table, and why not, and actively reach out to incorporate and complicate our analyses if we ever hope to represent the diversity of the human condition, and the complexities of ableism when experienced by those who are also confronted by homophobia, racism, and the particularities of different impairments as well.

Based on your research and writing, what are some of the major ways ableism operates in society?   

I see it every day when people neglect to consider that disabled people are everywhere yet fail to plan for their participation. I see it in classrooms that show films without captioning with desks that don’t move; at campus events held upstairs with no elevator access; at facilities that illegally exclude service animals; at conferences that serve meals without options for those with allergies, chemical sensitivities or addictions; I see it in funding campaigns that acquiesce to donors who just don’t want to innovate for accessibility; I see it in families that marginalize disabled members by failing to dismantle barriers that exclude them from the kitchen, the yard, the living room. Institutionalized forms of ableism also exist in policies that fail to make public simple accommodations that are possible; that require complaints and lawsuits to be filed before change is considered; I see it in misrepresentations that present disabled people in the media as tragic and suffering or as brave and inspirational for doing everyday things. We need to be exposing discriminatory practices that continue to restrict, restrain and incarcerate people on the basis of disability, sharing information about disability hate crimes that often go unreported; we need to challenge laws that prevent disabled people from voting, parenting, accessing health care and identifying transportation options; we need to demand life-sustaining procedures for evacuation during emergencies and for power outages.

What do you hope people will learn about ableism after reading your book? 

People will come away with an increased appreciation that we all have hidden (and not so hidden) biases; we all neglect to consider how our privileges make us complicit in perpetuating inequality. But instead of feeling guilty or threatened by this, the book offers concrete suggestions for how to reimagine what’s possible for individuals, families and organizations to change false assumptions, to reach out to representatives, and to reduce prejudice in our classrooms and beyond. The book offers many strategies and resources for how to do this from confronting ableism directly as allies and insiders to recruiting disabled leaders and informants, to getting involved politically, through social media or by making a commitment to change something in one’s sphere of influence. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with me?  

I am very fortunate to be invited to speak at a congressional briefing next month, and to serve as a keynote speaker at next year’s Disability Matters conference. I would be honored to visit other organizations or to serve on a panel with other activists and academics working in solidarity to address contemporary manifestations ableism and it’s undoing.

Latina woman with short black and grey hair, wearing brown-rimmed glasses and yellow sweater with white polka dots smiles widely at her desk.

Michelle R. Nario-Redmond is a Professor of Psychology at Hiram College, specializing in stereotyping, prejudice, and disability studies. She earned her Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Kansas, and her research focuses on group identification and political advocacy; strategies of responding to prejudice; and the unintended consequences of simulating disability. A member of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues and the Society of Disability Studies, Michelle is passionate about social justice, inclusive pedagogy, Universal-Design, increasing access to higher education. She enjoys collaborating with students and presenting with her daughter on disability arts and culture.

Website:    https://ableismbook.com/

Social Psychology Network:  http://nario-redmond.socialpsychology.org/

Twitter:   @nariomr

Facebook:  Michelle Reyna

Instagram:  @swapmeet_mama

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The Council on Quality and Leadership

Most People Are Prejudiced Against People with Disabilities

We conducted a large-scale study with approximately 350,000 people to examine common modern forms of ableism

Posted on September 4, 2019

By Carli Friedman, CQL Director of Research

Ableism, the social oppression of people with disabilities, is pervasive and impacts not only our interactions with others but also systems, such as policies. Attitudes operate on two levels – explicit attitudes are conscious ones, while implicit attitudes are unconscious ones. People’s explicit and implicit attitudes do not always align because of the ways explicit and implicit attitudes operate. Moreover, people might not even be aware they hold biased attitudes!

Modern ableism can be broken into four groups depending on different levels of explicit and implicit prejudice. Symbolic ableists have high explicit prejudice and implicit prejudice. Although they recognize there is still discrimination against people with disabilities and have some empathy toward people with disabilities, symbolic ableists score high in terms of individualism, including the idea that if people with disabilities try hard enough they can succeed. Aversive ableists have low explicit prejudice and high implicit prejudice. Aversive people believe they are not prejudiced—in fact, egalitarian values are important to their self-image—yet they often unknowingly act in prejudiced ways in scenarios where their prejudice is less overtly evident. Principled conservatives are those who have high explicit prejudice and low implicit prejudice because they truly value abstract conservative ideals, which cause them to dislike policies that stray from tradition. Finally, as the name suggests, truly low prejudiced people are those who truly have low explicit and implicit prejudice.

CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership recently conducted a large-scale study with approximately 350,000 people to examine which form of modern ableism is the most common. To do so, we measured and compared people’s explicit and implicit prejudice and examined how different attitude types aligned.

Our findings revealed the overwhelming majority of people were prejudiced against people with disabilities. The most common form of prejudice amongst the 350,000 people was aversive ableism, where they consciously had little prejudice but unconsciously were prejudiced against people with disabilities.

Types of Modern Ableism

disability prejudice essay

Ableism is not only extremely prominent, it also hinders the quality of life of people with disabilities. Unfortunately, most people are ableist but don’t even realize it! We have a lot more work to do to end disability prejudice.

This article is a summary of the following journal manuscript: Friedman, C. (2019). Mapping ableism: A two-dimensional model of explicit and implicit disability attitudes. Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, 8(3), 95-120. https://doi.org/10.15353/cjds.v8i3.509

Featured Webinar

Modern Ableism and Disability Prejudice

Ableism is “the idea that a person’s abilities or characteristics are determined by disability or that people with disabilities as a group are inferior to nondisabled people” (Linton, 1998, p.9). This webinar shares information about modern forms of ableism and disability prejudice.

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About the Journal

Disability Studies Quarterly ( DSQ ) is the journal of the Society for Disability Studies (SDS). It is a multidisciplinary and international journal of interest to social scientists, scholars in the humanities and arts, disability rights advocates, and others concerned with the issues of people with disabilities. It represents the full range of methods, epistemologies, perspectives, and content that the field of disability studies embraces. DSQ is committed to developing theoretical and practical knowledge about disability and to promoting the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in society. (ISSN: 1041-5718; eISSN: 2159-8371)

Disability, Debility, and Justice

Editor’s Note: This piece is a part of our series celebrating the thirty-year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

I never met my spring term Disability Law class in person. I told the students appearing on my computer screen, “Watch this moment. As a society, we will devote massive amounts of resources to accommodating the vulnerabilities of our bodies, but we will not call it a disability issue.” We witnessed how schools and other institutions provided remote programming for people stuck in their homes; people discussed the disease’s trauma and stigma; and governments funneled millions of dollars to keep people safe amidst a global threat. Discussions of medical treatment, searching for access to accommodations, and grappling with the upheaval that one’s body may wreak on one’s life is nothing new within the disability community. Over the past 30 years, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has funneled many of these issues. The ADA has done much to recognize legally the “ right of disabled people to live in the world ” and change our expectations that disabled Americans are entitled to employers, government programs, and public places that expect and appreciate them.

However, as our experience with COVID-19 has indicated, disabled Americans are still subject to life-threatening prejudice. People with disabilities have disproportionately been infected and dying from COVID-19; disability advocates have challenged triage decisions that have placed some disabled people at the bottom of hierarchies for care; disability advocates lament a discourse that relegates vulnerable people to acceptable losses; and people lodged in institutions such as nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have borne the brunt of infection. Thus, even though COVID-19 has forced us to come to terms with our physical vulnerabilities, it has not forced us to come to terms with our ableism. Prior social inequalities are still making their mark — with a vengeance.

Disability advocates and attorneys have done an admirable job bringing disability issues to our attention. Strikingly, however, disability has a muted role in our consciousness concerning social injustice, and those who could be members of the disability community do not necessarily identify as disabled. Scholars have discussed why disability is so muted — that we have yet to shift disability treatment from the realm of pity and charity to rights and that the relatively quick buy-in of the ADA ultimately failed to force Americans to metabolize the idea of disability rights. In this Blog post, I would like to propose another possibility and suggest another path forward. As an effort to combat the stigmatizing effects of ableism and as a way to knit together people with different physical impairments, disability scholarship and advocacy emphasize disability pride and the shared experience of social prejudice. These efforts are valuable and should continue. Added to them, however, I suggest that we also center how social inequality produces debility and impairment. These social inequities include people poisoned by lead; people hurt by police brutality; people harmed by hate crimes; and people surviving sexual violence. They are a crucial reason why the disability community is disproportionately Black and Brown, female, poor, and LGBTQ. Nevertheless, these accounts of social injustice rarely get spelled out in disability terms.

Highlighting the ex ante social inequities that produce debility is not without its risks. A careless application could reproduce the older medical model of disability that privileged medical professionals and allied workers who diagnosed impairments instead of the disabled people who lived with them. Speaking about the negative aspects of impairments could fall into a preexisting and prominent discourse of pity and contempt about living a life with disabilities. Ameliorating the underlying social conditions that cause some debility would decrease the population of the disability community. Parsing the causes of debility could threaten to fracture the big tent of the disability community.

On the other hand, there is also a big potential upside. Disability has much to offer: a history, a community, and law. Recognizing that some impairments might be tough or painful acknowledges some people’s reality. It notes the conditions, such as chronic pain or some psychiatric conditions, that have only more recently fit within the disability pride message. Disability can join forces with other simultaneous movements that may not necessarily recognize the importance of disability to their goals. Furthermore, a putatively universal coalition that does not adequately capture its most vulnerable members’ priorities just papers over problems rather than addressing them. We can point out that while the legal system has worried about the “floodgates” of people claiming disability accommodations, the more tragic reality is the people who could use disability law but do not recognize that it is for them.

As we cross the threshold of 500,000 COVID-19 deaths within the United States and celebrate the advent of mass vaccination, and when we take stock of the harm caused by the pandemic, we can think anew about how people with preexisting conditions, people lodged in nursing homes and prisons, and people vulnerable due to weak labor protections and prejudice may have more in common than they realize.

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Ableism: Bias Against People With Disabilities Essay

Ableism denotes social prejudice and bias against people with disabilities (PWD) and in favor of able-bodied individuals. People are not born with such prejudice embedded in them but learn it later in life from the community, the media, parents, and friends, to mention a few. Many people are not as skillful as they ought to be with respect to interrelations with individuals they perceive to be of a different culture or ability. At times, even people with good intentions occasionally say or behave in a prejudiced or biased approach, even unwittingly (Scott, 2016). Social influence is a great aspect that may change a person’s behavior and mindset regarding other people or a group. PWD act as a minority group that is hardly talked about but is greatly oppressed.

Generally, modern society does not appreciate the different talents and abilities of PWD but treats them like castaways. Very little attention is given to PWD, their challenges, and the oppression that they encounter. Impairments are regarded as defects that must be fixed to make people with such disabilities ‘normal’ again (Adjei, 2018). This has been a prevalent manner of thinking where being able-bodied is considered normal. Society is inclined to meeting the demands of the able-bodied while ignoring the needs of PWD.

Ableism entails the application of unsuitable words, unfairness in places of work and learning institutions, denial of service, lack of required amenities, and unequal and discourteous treatment of PWD. Even the practice of favoring the less disabled individual over the more disabled one is deemed a type of ableism.

Ableists, people who are inclined to the ideals of ableism and who practice it, may do it both intentionally and unintentionally. Even strangers, members of the family, colleagues, and peers with good intentions may unintentionally subscribe to the notions of ableists while motivating and encouraging a patient with words such as, “engage in regular exercise so that you walk again and make your life better.” Some forms of disabilities, such as mental disability, are highly stigmatized when judged against others because of the previously associated stereotypes (Silva & Howe, 2018). In this regard, people with schizophrenia and other forms of mental disorders may face stigmatization and discrimination from able-bodied individuals anchored in the mistaken notion of their being dangerous.

Attributable to the increased stigmatization against people with some forms of mental health disorders, many individuals may choose to suffer silently rather than disclose their problems to others for fear of ill-treatment and segregation. For instance, they may fear being labeled, losing their employment positions or housing, going through prejudiced treatment in the provision of necessary services after disclosure of a mental health problem, and dealing with negative attitudes from their peers and members of the community. When this happens, even able-bodied people fail to reap the benefits of the contributions by talented PWD (Goodley, 2014). The fear of being stigmatized may lead to such people not seeking the necessary mental health care until situations arise where the problem is noticed while it is too late to cure it.

In its worst occurrences, ableism may result in society going down the route of euthanasia because of disabilities being considered a departure from the norm and the belief that the continued existence of PWD is worthless. Under such circumstances, failure to provide the required support and services to people with disabilities makes their survival exceedingly hard, and they may end up committing suicide or choosing euthanasia.

On this note, there is a need for the global community to be mindful of the treatment and attitudes towards PWD and avoid practices and dialogues which are ableist (Thompson, 2015). Ableism should not be practiced by anyone in society, and diversity ought to be lionized and acknowledged as a variety of abilities. People concerned with rights advocacy ought to ensure a facilitated awareness of the distressing impacts of ableism through the inclusion of the subject in private and public discussions.

A wide pool of studies affirms that people with disabilities are discriminated against by being treated as if they were outcasts due to their alleged inabilities when judged against able-bodied individuals. However, many approaches may be employed to decrease discrimination against PWD with the application of multidimensional strategies (Berridge & Martinson, 2017). People only need to be enlightened to the fact that everyone has prejudice, but through learning and increasing knowledge, it is easy to eradicate stereotypes and treat people kindly and alike irrespective of their culture, ability, or race. This may be implemented early in children’s lives if a system of education initiates more opportunities and programs for people with disabilities and promotes enhanced intergroup affiliation.

Interrelations involving diverse individuals alter their convictions and sentiments towards one another. In this regard, if one has the chance to interact with others and value their lifestyle, understanding them and eliminating prejudice should be effortless. In ancient times, PWD experienced great discrimination in society. They were mistaken to be foolish, abnormal and were at times compelled to undergo cleansing in an effort to make themselves normal (Berridge & Martinson, 2017). In the 1950s, veterans who had taken part in the Second World War and returned with disabilities started to persuade the government to assist them through the provision of rehabilitation programs. Because the government disregarded their plea, the ex-servicemen started to make disability known across the nation.

In the course of the civil rights movements of the 1960s, activists started to collaborate with PWD and other minority groups to call for the consideration of their issues. In 1964, an act (The Civil Rights Act) was enforced to outlaw discrimination based on ethnic background, gender, and religion. However, this act failed to incorporate PWD. After much activism, only in 1990 was an act to protect the rights of PWD passed: the Americans with Disabilities Act (Thompson, 2015).

The strength of this act lies in its illegalization of prejudice against PWD and its push for equal opportunities for both able-bodied individuals and people with disabilities in the workplace, private, national, and local government services such as transportation and housing, among others.

For PWD, the ability to realize developmental objectives at times relies minimally on their disabilities and more on treatment by family members, colleagues, teachers, and other influential people. The fundamentals of transformation rest in the society’s social and environmental factors. PWD are human beings similar to their able-bodied counterparts and should be treated equally as their disabilities do not classify their skills or personalities. Some of the practices that are vital in helping to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities include increased awareness about the challenges that they face, educating able-bodied people in the best way of treating them, enhanced interactions, and embracing diversity.

Adjei, P. B. (2018). The (em) bodiment of blackness in a visceral anti-black racism and ableism context. Race Ethnicity and Education , 21 (3), 275-287.

Berridge, C. W., & Martinson, M. (2017). Valuing old age without leveraging ableism. Generations , 41 (4), 83-91.

Goodley, D. (2014). Dis/ability studies: Theorising disablism and ableism . Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Scott, P. S. (2016). Addressing ableism in workplace policies and practices: The case for disability standards in employment. Flinders Law Journal , 18 , 121.

Silva, C. F., & Howe, P. D. (2018). The social empowerment of difference: The potential influence of Para sport. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics , 29 (2), 397-408.

Thompson, A. E. (2015). The Americans with Disabilities Act. Jama , 313 (22), 2296-2296.

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IvyPanda. (2021, May 7). Ableism: Bias Against People With Disabilities. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ableism-bias-against-people-with-disabilities/

"Ableism: Bias Against People With Disabilities." IvyPanda , 7 May 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/ableism-bias-against-people-with-disabilities/.

IvyPanda . (2021) 'Ableism: Bias Against People With Disabilities'. 7 May.

IvyPanda . 2021. "Ableism: Bias Against People With Disabilities." May 7, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ableism-bias-against-people-with-disabilities/.

1. IvyPanda . "Ableism: Bias Against People With Disabilities." May 7, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ableism-bias-against-people-with-disabilities/.

Bibliography

IvyPanda . "Ableism: Bias Against People With Disabilities." May 7, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ableism-bias-against-people-with-disabilities/.

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Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund

What is Prejudice as it Relates to Disability Anti-Discrimination Law?

David Ruebain *

Introduction

My background and interest in disabled people’s rights stems from the fact that I was born with an impairment that affects my mobility and dexterity. Like all of us, I have a number of characteristics and identities, but overwhelmingly my identity as a disabled person has defined my relationship with the world and its relationship with me. From the anxiety and terror that my family experienced shortly before my birth upon being told by doctors that I was disabled, to my own experience of being sent to “special” segregated schools, to growing up as different and experiencing the fear and loathing (forgive my frank description) directed towards disabled people, my status as a disabled person has defined, informed and ultimately motivated my life. I currently work in a large law firm as head of a department of education & disability law, a specialist practice that provides legal services to disabled people, children and students. I am also involved with a number of disability advocacy organisations, including Rights Now, a U.K. coalition of which I am Vice-Chairperson that campaigns for comprehensive and enforceable civil rights legislation for disabled people.

In my exploration of the subject of prejudice and the extent to which laws can overcome discrimination, I will begin by considering the nature of discrimination and the extent to which laws can deal with its subtleties. I will then look at discrimination as manifested within a legal system, using a case study from Great Britain. Finally, I will give some thought to new gene technology and disability discrimination. [1]

The Nature of Discrimination: Examples of Marginalisation

Disabled people face explicit, implicit, visceral and systemic or institutional discrimination. Much has been written to illustrate this but it bears repeating; particularly because discrimination is rarely obvious, either because it forms part of the fabric of our institutions or because it is rooted in misconception and fear. By way of illustration, I would like to paraphrase from a seminal book: Pride Against Prejudice: Transforming Attitudes to Disability by Jenny Morris. [2] Dr Morris quotes another disabled writer, Pam Evans, who lists the assumptions that she found non-disabled people in the UK have about the “real” lives and attitudes of disabled people. I imagine that at least some of them are true throughout the world. I emphasise that these are attitudes and assumptions and not truths:

“That we feel ugly, inadequate and ashamed of our disability.”

“That our lives are a burden to us, barely worth living.”

“That we crave to be ‘normal and whole’.”

“That whatever we choose to do or think, any work or pursuit that we undertake, is done so as ‘therapy’ with the sole intention of taking our mind off our condition.”

“That we are naïve and live sheltered lives.”

“That we can’t ever really accept our condition, and if we appear to be leading a full and contented life, or are simply cheerful, we are ‘just putting a good face on it’.”

“That we feel envy and resentment at the able-bodied.”

“That we feel our condition is an unjust punishment.”

“That any emotional distress that we show can only be due to our disability and not to the same things that hurt and upset them.”

“That our disability has affected us physiologically, making us bitter and neurotic.”

“That it is quite amazing if we laugh, are cheerful and pleasant and take pleasure in other people’s happiness.”

“That we are ashamed of our inabilities, our ‘abnormalities’ and loathe our wheelchairs, crutches or other aids.”

“That we never ‘give up hope’ of a cure.”

“That when we affirm that we cannot, or do not wish to do something, our judgement and preferences are overridden and contradicted as inferior to theirs.”

“That we are asexual or at best sexually inadequate.”

“That if we have a partner who is disabled, we choose each other for no other reasons, and not for any other qualities that we might possess. When we choose ‘our own kind’ in this way the able-bodied world feels relieved, until of course we wish to have children; then we are seen as irresponsible.”

“That we have not got a right to an able-bodied partner; and that if they happen to be very obviously ‘attractive’, it is even more of a ‘waste’.”

“That any able-bodied partner that we have is doing us a favour and that we bring nothing to the relationship.”

“That if we were particularly gifted, successful or attractive before the onset of disability, our fate is infinitely more tragic than if we were none of these things.”

“That our only true scale of merit and success is to judge ourselves of the standards of their world.”

“That we are sweet, deprived little souls who need to be compensated with treats, presents and praise.”

And so the list goes on. These assumptions are born not of actual interactions with disabled people, but rather of fears that have been engendered as a result of the systematic exclusion of disabled people from society.

This exclusion is illustrated in studies undertaken by a number of bodies in the U.K. that established, beyond doubt, that discrimination against disabled people permeates society. For example, during the 1997 British general election, the charity SCOPE found that 94% of the polling stations it surveyed were inaccessible to disabled people voting independently. In employment studies into hiring practices in the private sector, two fictitious applications differing only in one respect were sent out in response to publicly advertised jobs – one was from a disabled person and the other was not. The studies revealed virtually identical evidence: the “non-disabled” candidate was 11⁄2 times more likely to receive a positive reply, whilst the “disabled” candidate was six times more likely to receive a negative response. Meanwhile, MIND, the UK mental health charity, found that out of 778 people with past or present mental health impairments, 47% had been harassed or abused in public, 49% had been abused at home, 14% had been physically attacked, and 25% had been rejected by insurance or finance companies. Within the U.K. in the mid 1990s, the average income of disabled people under retirement age was estimated as being 72% of the average for all people within this age group, and disabled adults were twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled adults.

This exclusion is reflected in various aspects of our culture – film, television, literature, and the media. Colin Barnes [3] identifies at least 11 stereotypes of disabled people, some of which are:

  • The disabled person as pitiable and pathetic. E.g. Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Porgy in George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess .
  • The disabled person as an object of violence. E.g. Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? ” and Audrey Hepburn in Wait until Dark .
  • The disabled person as sinister and evil. E.g. Shakespeare’s Richard III, and also Black Dog, Blind Pew and Long John Silver in Stephenson’s Treasure Island .
  • The disabled person as atmosphere or curio. E.g. the characters of Merrick in The Elephant Man and Half Soldier in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly .
  • The disabled person as supercripple. E.g. the central characters in My Left Foot and Reach for the Sky .
  • The disabled person as an object of ridicule. E.g. the cartoon Mr Magoo and Harpo Marx of the Marx Brothers.
  • The disabled person as his or her own worst and only enemy. E.g. the central characters in Coming Home and Born on the Fourth of July .
  • The disabled person as a burden. E.g. in the recent British television drama Keeping Tom Nice .
  • The disabled person as sexually abnormal. E.g. Hephaestus in Homer’s The Odyssey and Lady Chatterley’s husband in D.H. Lawrence’s novel.

In other words, the disabled person as incapable of participating fully in community life, which is reflected in virtually all art and literature!

What is particularly invidious is that these prejudices are internalised by disabled people as well. As a consequence, a necessary part of any remedy is to bring disabled people to the heart of society. Only then can disabled and non-disabled people really reconsider and re-evaluate the misinformation arising from the history of oppression of disabled people that blights everyone’s lives. For this reason, I contend that anti-discrimination laws are a necessary part of the ending of oppression -an enforceable mandate that will require the end of exclusion. The ending of exclusion is only the start, but nevertheless a critical one. Accordingly, I believe that without anti-discrimination laws, the process of re-evaluation, of transforming peoples’ hearts and minds, cannot begin. Anti-discrimination laws are therefore not the sole solution, but a necessary part of the fabric of transformation. Still, we must ask ourselves: what is the extent to which laws can end exclusion?

The Extent To Which Laws Can Redress Discrimination

It seems straightforward to me that laws can regulate personal behaviour, so I would like to focus instead on the presence of systemic or institutionalised discrimination. It may be useful to begin with an explanation of what this means.

In his study of disability discrimination in Britain, Colin Barnes looks at the nature of institutional discrimination. [4] He argues that the phenomenon is evident when the policies and activities of all types of modern organisation result in inequality between disabled people and non-disabled people. It is, he states, “embedded in the excessive paternalism of contemporary welfare systems and is apparent when they are systematically ignoring or meeting inadequately the needs of disabled people”. [5] It is also evident when these agencies regularly interfere in the lives of disabled people as a means of social control, in ways and/or to an extent not experienced by non-disabled people. Institutional discrimination incorporates the extreme forms of prejudice and intolerance usually associated with individual or direct discrimination, as well as those more covert and unconscious attitudes that contribute to and maintain indirect and/or passive discriminatory practices.

More recently, Barnes and Mike Oliver [6] argue that even comprehensive and fully enforceable civil rights legislation will not, by itself, solve the problem of discrimination against disabled people. This is because discrimination against disabled people, like racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of institutional prejudices, is institutionalised in the very fabric of British (and no doubt any other) society. It encompasses direct, indirect and passive discrimination. It lies rooted in the very foundations of western culture. In the U.K., it is evident in our abortion laws, education systems, labour market, benefit systems, health and social support services, built environment – housing, transport and public buildings, leisure industry, media, and political system.

The critical question then, is given the entrenched nature of this form of discrimination, to what extent is it susceptible to legal remedy?

Barnes and Oliver argue that institutional discrimination will only end with the existence of both a strong anti-discrimination policy based on the social model of disability, and a well-funded disabled people’s movement to enforce it. They also argue for a meaningful freedom of information act to ensure that medical records and other information cannot be used to legitimate prejudice and ignorance. They state that what is needed is a comprehensive legislative programme, which will establish a suitable framework for the enforcement of policies that will ensure the integration of disabled people into the mainstream economic and social life of the community, and also provide public confirmation that discrimination against disabled people, for whatever reason, is no longer acceptable. In other words, we need legislation that emphasises civil rights rather than individual needs, and focuses on the shortcomings of the disabling society in which we live, and not on individual impairment.

Barnes and Oliver propose that civil rights cannot be achieved by legislation alone, but rather requires decisive political action, which itself is dependent on the presence of an adequately funded national network of organisations controlled and run by disabled people. It is these organisations that can place the issue of institutional discrimination onto the political agenda, and that are best suited to ensure the eventual eradication of disability discrimination.

In discussing how far laws can redress discrimination, it is of course useful to consider the experience of ten years of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Marca Bristow, Chairperson of the United States National Council on Disability, wrote to the U.S. President and summarised the enforcement of the law as follows:

while the administration has consistently asserted its strong support for the civil rights of the people with disabilities, the federal agencies charged with enforcement and policy development under ADA have, to varying degrees, been underfunded, overly cautious, reactive, and lacking any coherent and unifying national strategy. In addition, enforcement agencies have not consistently taken leadership roles in clarifying “frontier” or emergent issues. [7]

Amongst other things, the report recorded that disabled people found dealing with government agencies frustrating: they felt that they received little information with regard to their complaints, that their complaints took excessive amounts of time to process, and that their cases were not seen as “big enough”. [8] Interestingly, the report concludes that “[s]ince the passage of ADA in 1990, the nation has made a respectable, though far from flawless, start toward eliminating discrimination on the basis of disability.” [9]

From a global perspective, Tom Shakespeare and Nick Watson analyse the development of global disability politics and its effects on the planets estimated 450,000,000 disabled people. [10] The authors quote James Charlton, who states that what makes the Disability Rights Movement subversive is paradoxically the extraordinary world wide oppression of disabled people: “[t]he oppression is systematic. The principles, demands and goals of the Disability Rights Movements cannot be accommodated by the present world system.” [11] The implication is that the liberal ambition of civil rights is doomed by broader systems of power, and established capitalist social relations. As the global market becomes more and more dominant, the scope for national social investment and egalitarian reform becomes more limited. On the other hand, the authors argue for “realpolitik” – de facto advances and success in achieving equality will occur regardless of “official” positions – and I agree; disability politics “is a continuing project and will involve reversals as well as success.” [12]

Useful perspectives can also be gleaned from the experience of those who are engaged in fighting other forms of discrimination, such as sexism. The feminist advocate Sandra Fredman argues:

law must have a role in effecting change, if only because if it is not harnessed in support of progress, it frequently actively obstructs attempts to address patriarchy. But this is not the only reason: ultimately, it is a counsel of despair to conclude that law is intrinsically and unavoidably patriarchal. Instead, it can well be empowering. However, the programme of utilising law in support of change is a complex and risky one; and in the final analysis, it is only one element of a necessarily multi-faceted approach”. [13]

With regards to the situation in Australia, Hauritz, Sampford and Blencowe remind us that laws can provide broad principles and institutional arrangements that further the rights of disabled people, establish criminal and civil sanctions to deter those who would deny the rights of disabled people, and can appropriate funds for either of these purposes. [14] However, they state that, as often as not, laws cannot provide the whole of the answer, and moreover, are often part of the problem. Legal responses lack coherence, partly because of the range of government policies (economic, econo-social and political) that they reflect. For example, the option of civil litigation in common law countries responds to disabled people in two fundamentally different ways, depending on the source of impairment and the assignability of blame. First, there is the “total compensation model”, which seeks to restore the individual to his or her previous position, and second there is the “limited assistance model”, which provides inadequate or no provision for persons whose impairment arises from a birth defect, an illness, or any accident not caused by a solvent perpetrator. [15] (There is in addition a third option in the civil rights approach.)

In their analysis of Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act 1992 , Jones and Basser Marks discuss what they see as general limits on the use of law to promote rights. [16] The authors report that lawyers have a tendency to believe that laws will provide solutions to complex social and political problems. In contrast to this, they assert the view that at best, law can achieve only part of the larger strategy required to achieve rights for disabled people. They argue that successful redress of the systemic and institutional biases that undermine substantial equality for all members of society requires more than adherence to law. In particular, they support the development of “Disability Standards and Action Plans,” which are designed to initiate and supplement the process of value formation through which attitudes and assumptions about disability become secondary to an idea of intrinsic human worth, independent of ability. Jones and Basser Marks assert that this foundational process of value formation cannot be achieved by law on its own, but they recognise that law no doubt has a role to play. For example, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 actually implements the use of Disability Standards and Action Plans, and thereby takes seriously the “normative and educative function of law.” [17] Furthermore, a law proclaiming the rights of disabled people conveys the message that they are valued members of a community, whose dignities are protected. It also conveys a message to perpetrators of discrimination, fear and hatred that their behaviour is unacceptable. Accordingly, they conclude that the law can play a significant role in empowering disabled people.

Finally, Colin Barnes concludes that:

[Cynics] might argue that institutional discrimination [against disabled people] is so entrenched within our [British] society that any serious thoughts of its eradication by whatever means are both utopian and unrealistic. Such people need to be reminded that contemporary society is neither utopia nor the real world, it is a socially created world. Institutional discrimination, in common with everything else in our world, is little more than a social creation, and as such can be socially eradicated. While the policies outlined above might not eradicate it overnight, they will certainly make a significant contribution to its demise. [18]

I also hold the view that laws alone cannot redress discrimination but are a necessary step to doing so. However, in addition to comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, we require some means of achieving the educational process and personal and social catharsis which will ultimately allow people’s worldviews to be reconfigured.

Discrimination Within the Legal System

Since I propose the use of law as an important tool for the redress of discrimination, it becomes all the more necessary to be conscious of, and guard against, discrimination as it operates within a legal system itself. By way of illustration, I will look at the extent to which the law of England and Wales – as written and as enforced – affords rights to disabled children not to be excluded from their communities and peer groups, focussing particularly on the right of disabled children to attend ordinary schools.

The law currently governing this area is set out in Section 316 of the Education Act 1996 . [19] This provides that where a parent wishes their (disabled) child to attend at an ordinary (i.e. not a special education school), that wish must be acceded to as long as:

  • The needs of the disabled child can be met in an ordinary school;
  • Other children would not be adversely affected by the presence of the disabled child in the school; and
  • It would constitute an efficient use of resources for the disabled child to attend an ordinary school.

The British government has announced proposals to amend s. 316 to remove the first criterion but nevertheless, the remaining two substantive conditions will have to be met before a disabled child will be entitled to attend at an ordinary school. The first of these, concerning the absence of any adverse effect on other children, is particularly invidious as, so far as I am aware, there is no other category of children whose rights to remain within their community are dependent on whether anyone else would be allegedly adversely affected. Even more disturbing, however, is the fact that even when both hurdles are successfully met and the law supports inclusion, it does not always follow through to enforce a disabled child’s rights.

I would like to illustrate this by reference to a case study involving a disabled child and her attempts to progress through primary (ages 4-11) and secondary (ages 11-16+) education in mainstream schools. [20] Within England and Wales, the law requires most disabled children to be provided with a legal document, known as a Statement of Special Educational Needs, that records the child’s needs, how these will be met, and the school that the child should attend. These Statements are prepared and maintained by the Local Education Authority (LEA) for the area in which the child lives. A key legal point for our purposes is that if a child has a Statement naming a particular maintained (i.e., state-funded) school, then pursuant to Section 324(5)(b) of the Education Act 1996 , that school MUST admit the child.

Zahrah Manuel is a thirteen-year old with cerebral palsy. She is of small stature, uses a wheelchair, and communicates non-verbally. After a four year battle with her LEA, the London Borough of Camden, her mother, Preethi, succeeded in obtaining a place for her in an ordinary primary school within her area of Camden in North London. By all accounts, the placement was hugely successful for both Zahrah and the other children at the school. When Zahrah reached the age of 11, consideration ordinarily would have been given for her transfer from primary school to secondary school.

Camden LEA agreed that Zahrah should transfer to a mainstream secondary school. The nearest accessible mainstream school happened to be just over the borough boundary, in the area of a neighbouring LEA, the London Borough of Barnet. Nevertheless, Camden LEA accepted that, having regard to Section 316 of the Education Act 1996 , Zahrah could attend a mainstream school, and agreed to amend Zahrah’s Statement to name the secondary school in neighbouring Barnet; that school was thereby legally required to admit her, as noted above. Equally importantly, Camden LEA agreed to fund the cost of two learning support assistants, as well an any additional therapy support and equipment needed at the school.

On 3 September 1999, Preethi took Zahrah to the secondary school named in her daughter’s Statement, but the school, in effect, refused to permit Zahrah to attend. Instead, it insisted that Preethi, Zahrah, Camden LEA, and many others familiar with Zahrah were all mistaken, and Zahrah should attend a special, segregated school for disabled children. Even more astonishing, the Barnet school was already designated as (and equipped to be) wheelchair accessible.

A six-month court battle ensued, eventually resulting in the school agreeing to admit Zahrah in March 2000. Throughout this battle, the law was clearly on Zahrah’s side: she had a Statement of Special Educational Needs that named an ordinary secondary school, and consequently the school was required to admit her. However, through a process of obfuscation, confusion and fear mongering, the school managed for six months to dissuade the British Secretary of State for Education & Employment, as well as two High Court Judges, from ordering the school to admit her, and they did so on a basis not more substantive than the claim that there is no smoke without fire: surely no school would object to a child attending unless they had good cause to do so. The school raised all manner of argument: that Zahrah would threaten hitherto harmonious relations within the school; that staff could not cope with Zahrah (despite the high level of additional resourcing agreed to and funded by Camden LEA); that there were no facilities for Zahrah to have a bath (even though no-one had suggested the need for such a thing); and so on. The consequence was that a marginalised child was effectively excluded for six months.

There is a postscript. In the midst of the battle for Zahrah to go to an ordinary secondary school, Preethi enquired of another local mainstream secondary school as to whether they would accept Zahrah. Although that school was not designated as accessible for disabled children, they readily agreed. Adaptations were made, and Zahrah commenced there in September 2000. The difference between the responses and attitudes of the two secondary schools is astonishing. Whereas the school in Barnet (supposedly designated for disabled children) eventually admitted her, they did so with extreme reluctance. Meanwhile the school in Camden, hitherto inaccessible, welcomed Zahrah with open arms, efficiently making whatever modifications were necessary to ensure that she is truly included.

In Disability and the Law , the authors quote Caroline Gooding, who contends that “the law is not an impartial arbitrator, but colludes with, and indeed itself perpetrates, discrimination”. [21] The essence of this argument is based on the assertion that the law, in short, reflects the values and judgements of society, and if these are of themselves discriminatory, so will laws be. Furthermore, traditional legal systems frequently are based on a formal equality model, and consequently do not recognise or seek to redress structural inequalities. As Gooding states “this model cannot succeed in redressing inequality, and risks compounding the problem by legitimating inequality through its false account of equality.” [22] In Zahrah’s case, the law was clearly on her side. And yet, its application failed her for six months.

New Gene Technology and Disability Discrimination

I now turn from an area that has traditionally concerned disability advocates to consider the relatively recent and rapidly developing areas of genetics, bioethics and biotechnology. Disabled people and disability organisations are growing increasingly fearful that the moral and ethical issues surrounding biotechnology and medicine are lagging behind scientific advances; history provides ample evidence of the risks involved in such a situation. Genetic counselling, pre-natal diagnosis, selective abortion, in-vitro fertilisation, embryo research, genetic engineering, gene therapy, voluntary euthanasia, “mercy killings” – these options are part of our lives and shape the societies in which we live, whether or not we understand them. Disabled children and adults have always been at risk of early death from either deliberate action or intentional inaction, such as the failure to be feed adequately. However, recent medical and scientific advances have “upped the ante” in this regard, and there are three main areas of contemporary concern for disabled people and their allies: pre-natal diagnosis and selective termination of pregnancy, withholding treatment and “mercy killing”, and genetic engineering.

Pre-natal screening refers to a variety of tests that pregnant women undergo to gain information about the foetus that they are carrying. These include blood tests, amniocentesis and ultrasound scans. Anti-natal screening is also done on embryos conceived “in-vitro” – outside the womb. Only those embryos considered free of “defects” are implanted. This screening out of “negative” characteristics has already been joined by the screening in of “positive” ones – a couple can choose to buy another couple’s embryos based on their “desirable” characteristics. The inescapable consequence of this is that disabled people, as a distinct group, are specifically targeted before they can even be born. Access to pre-natal diagnosis has for many years been driven by the goal of getting rid of certain groups of disabled people, for example, those with Downs Syndrome or Spina Bifida.

Selective abortion refers to choices about the termination of pregnancy made on the basis of the foetus possessing known or suspected characteristics that make it less desirable to its parents and to society in general. Such characteristics include race, sex, impairment, behaviour, and appearance. In the richer countries of the world, but increasingly in the poorer countries as well, there is enormous pressure on parents to undergo pre-natal screening, and to terminate a pregnancy where the foetus is possibly or probably affected by impairment.

Infanticide refers to the intentional killing of an infant shortly after birth. It is also often done because the newborn displays a particular characteristic – race, sex or impairment – that is seen as undesirable. The ethical justification of such killing is found in particular interpretations of terms such as “quality of life” and “personhood”. In particular, philosophers such as Peter Singer have expressed views that support infanticide, on the basis of decisions about quality of life and values. These developments threaten all of us: the disabled and the not-yet disabled.

Up to 100 different inherited conditions can be detected through screening. Within the U.K., the number of babies born with Spina Bifida has dropped by 75% in ten years – partly as a result of folic acid supplements but also because of screening and abortions. The number of babies born with Downs Syndrome has only dipped slightly – perhaps due to the fact that many women are having children later in life and this is a factor associated with Downs Syndrome. Many of those foetuses aborted after screening have no evidence of impairment. A few years ago, a report in the British Medical Journal claimed that while it cost up to £38,000 to screen for and “avoid a Downs Syndrome child” (through abortion), the lifetime healthcare costs for a person living with Downs Syndrome are £120,000 – clearly revealing the economic incentives behind screening and abortion. [23]

Disabled people generally are not consulted in policy making on pre-birth diagnosis and counselling, even though we could provide valuable information to counterbalance the often depressing input of the medical profession. Many parents want more information about particular impairments before deciding whether or not to terminate their pregnancy. Even when those foetuses screened for an impairment are not aborted, disabled people’s rights to existence and development remain threatened throughout their lives. They and their families already face enormous pressure, both economic and social, as they struggle to get the support that they require. The very existence of these pressures inevitably is used to rationalise family decisions about pregnancy termination and the killing of disabled infants. I argue that selective abortion fundamentally devalues the lives of disabled people by assessing their lives as not worth living, and this devaluation in its turn further exacerbates medical and social pressure to avoid giving birth to disabled infants.

With regard to genetic testing, disabled people’s concerns are rooted in the fear that society may come to consider appearance, behaviour and health or impairment status as entirely dependent on genetics, so that the impact of social, economic and cultural factors is ignored. This attitude could lead to a reduction in benefits and equalisation of opportunities programmes, as well as an increased interest in eugenics. In addition, genetic testing may actually enhance fears that disabled people are “deviant”, thereby justifying the continuing disadvantage endured by disabled people.

Illness prevention may simply come to mean the routine selective abortion of foetuses with certain genetic markers, including those who have some risk of developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease or cancer in later life. Sterilisation may be actively promoted as a “voluntary” sacrifice to be made by those whose characteristics are seen as undesirable and genetic in origin. Manipulation to remove “disease” may quickly become manipulation that defines “normal” variations in the population. Abortion and genetic manipulation may increasingly be used to guarantee what society regards as the most desirable height, colouring and sex. Apparently “made to order” embryos can already be bought in the U.S. – supposedly screened for “good” and “bad” characteristics.

In addition, people are already starting to suffer employment or insurance discrimination on the basis of a future predicted by genetic information as the practice of “genetic discrimination” spreads. Society may decide to withdraw resources from those with genetic disorders because these conditions – and the people who carry these conditions – are seen as preventable. Our whole view of what it means to be human and to be part of society – our value as individuals – may change because of extraordinary developments in this area.

All of this is frightening. Powerful eugenic assumptions about the kinds of lives that are worth living, linked with a utilitarian principle of benefit, appear to underpin much current human genetic research and clinical practice. A 1994/95 study by Dorothy Wertz and John Fletcher found that outside of Northern Europe, the vast majority of genetic counsellors hold overt eugenic views, and advise their patients on conception or pregnancy termination accordingly. [24]

These issues are an archetypal reflection of what Jennifer Fitzgerald has called “the commodification of the self”, whereby we now value and commodify humans according to the value of their genes, so that persons with so called “bad” genes are defined out of humanity, and therefore potentially fall outside the boundaries of our collective moral responsibility. The “geneticisation” of the self compounds the oppression which disabled people currently experience in our society. Fitzgerald makes powerful comparisons between the illusory “earthly paradise” previously inhabited by Prince Siddhartha, who became the Buddha after seeing pain and suffering, and the modern western dream of beauty, control and perfection that forms the implicit basis for current developments in bioethics. [25]

These are complex moral, ethical, legal, political, and medical issues. Most disabled people do not oppose medical research or genetic testing if it is part of ameliorative therapy or the treatment of illness or genetic conditions. What we oppose is eugenic cleansing carried out in the name of treatment. Recently, an eminent researcher was quoted as having said “soon it will be a sin for parents to have a child which carries the heavy burden of genetic disease.” [26] Marshall Nirenberg, Nobel Laureate said, in 1967:

My guess is that cells will be programmed with synthetic messages within 25 years. . . . The point that deserves special emphasis is that man may be able to program his own cells long before he will be able to assess adequately the long- term consequences of such alterations, long before he will be able to formulate goals, and long before he can resolve the ethical and moral problems which will be raised. [27]

And as Irving K. Zola said in 1972:

medicine is becoming a major institution of social control, nudging aside, if not incorporating, the more traditional institutions of religion and law. It is becoming the new repository of truth, the place where absolute and often final judgements are made by supposedly neutral and objective experts. And these judgements are made, not in the name of virtue or legitimacy, but in the name of health. [28]

We all are now living with the risks foreseen by these prescient scientists and authors, and new gene technologies can potentially determine every aspect of the lives of disabled people – from their very birth to their opportunities for health care and employment. We need laws drafted in consultation with disabled people. These laws should ban employers from using genetic information in any aspect of employment decision making, including but not limited to decisions about hiring and firing, promotions or demotions, pay rates, or any other employment rights or benefits. In addition, laws are required to ban life, disability and health insurers from using genetic information to deny insurance, increase insurance rates, or deny any insurance benefits. At a conference on bioethics held in Solihull, U.K., on12-13 February 2000, disabled people and activists in attendance agreed to a declaration that demanded: [29]

  • the prohibition of compulsory genetic testing;
  • the provision of full, accessible and balanced information so as to enable informed personal decision-making;
  • the right to assistance to live rather than assistance to die.

In essence, the declaration tries to contain the very real threat that genetic information poses to the ideal expressed in the insight of Dr. Oscar Arias, Nobel Peace Prize winner and ex-President of Costa Rica:

The most beautiful and enriching trait of human life is diversity – a diversity that can never be used to justify inequality. Repressing diversity will impoverish the human race. We must facilitate and strengthen diversity in order to reach a more equitable world for us all. For equality to exist, we must avoid standards that define what a normal human life should be or the normal way of achieving success and happiness. The only normal quality that can exist among human beings is life itself. [30]

Paul Miller, a Commissioner with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that “[t]he surge in genetic research and technology, fuelled in large part by the Human Genome Project (HGP), has resulted in the continuing expansion of the range of genetic tests and other genetic information available to physicians, insurance companies, employers, and the general public.” [31] From the perspective of employment rights, Miller reports that if employers are permitted to base personal decisions on genetic information, an emerging and complex form of disability discrimination will develop. Miller reports that, as of August 1997, the U.S. Council for Responsible Genetics, a national bioethics advocacy organisation, had documented over 200 cases of genetic discrimination by insurance companies, employers and others against asymptomatic individuals with genetic pre-dispositions to certain diseases. These numbers are bound to increase as greater information and diagnostic techniques become available.

Partly as a response to these and similar concerns, President Clinton issued the Genetic Executive Order on 8 February 2000 to prohibit discrimination in Federal employment based on genetic information. [32] This order prohibits discrimination on the basis of protected genetic information in all aspects of civilian federal government employment, and limits federal departments and agencies’ access to, and use of, genetic information. As the President stated at the time “[b]y signing this executive order, my goal is to set an example and pose a challenge for every employer in America, because I believe no employer should ever review your genetic records along with your resume.” [33] This constitutes a clear recognition at the highest political circles of the risks for genetic information and new gene technology to be misapplied.

But have we really come to terms with this “genie” and are the issues really that clear cut?

Tom Shakespeare and Nick Watson present a dialogue between two hypothetical characters, in order to rehearse some of the main arguments used against pre-natal screening and highlight some of the flaws that they see in these arguments. [34] On the one hand, the opponent of pre-natal screening argues that selected termination: (i) is the same as eugenics; (ii) is discriminatory; (iii) takes advantage of the fact that women do not have free choice in a oppressive society and are pressured to consider disabled lives “unworthy”; (iv) is the thin end of the wedge (i.e., selected termination on the basis of impairment will result in termination choices made on the basis of increasingly superficial physical characteristics, such as hair colour, gender, etc.); (v) reduces diversity; and (vi) reduces choices for, and devalues, disabled people once they are born. On the other hand, the advocate of pre-natal screening argues that: (i) early 20 th century eugenics policies are distinguishable because they were enforced by the state and involved coercion; (ii) it is hypocritical to voice support for a woman’s right to control her own body while opposing her choice to terminate a foetus with a disability simply because one does not agree with the decision; (iii) increasing choices for and information about disabled people, and working to end their present oppression, is a separate issue from pre-natal screening; (iv) there is a difference between seeking to prevent impairment and oppressing disabled people; (v) moral absolutes are not helpful; and (vi) it is illogical to extrapolate the argument that “born” disabled people would (or should) not exist from the mere fact of pre-natal testing.

Meanwhile, in another approach to the issues, Patrick Bateson, Provost of King’s College Cambridge, and Paul Martin, an author, warn us that the presence of genetic determinists like Charles Murray of Bell Curve infamy:

reminds us that the corpse of social Darwinism is still warm. … Those who are uncritically enthusiastic about the human genome project like to think of the genome as a blueprint. According to this view, if all the genetic information is fed into a sufficiently powerful computer equipped with the right software, the fully functioning adult will magically unfold before our eyes like a Japanese flower put into water. This view is deeply misguided. Genes make proteins, not people. [35]

People, on the other hand, are created through a complex continuous process of exchange between individuals and their environments.

The issues are complex. Genetic discrimination is, in one sense, no different than any other kind of discrimination. But I have wanted to conclude with an examination of this area because, if for no other reason, it emphasises that a society which marginalises disabled people will discriminate against them anew, as new structures forums for discrimination evolve. One necessary approach is to combat the discrimination with laws, but fundamental change in society remains necessary.

I hope that I have illustrated three things – that discrimination against disabled people remains entrenched and widespread, that the law is a necessary and valuable component in combating discrimination, and that law itself will not succeed without a wider re-evaluation of our understanding of disability in society. I am optimistic. It is, I believe, not in our inherent nature to discriminate or oppress. Oppression arises through attitudes based on and cultivated by existing social structures and organisations, and these can be changed. Each of us has a part to play – individually and collectively – in achieving this change.

* Head of Education & Disability Law, Levenes Solicitors, U.K.

[1] In my discussion of these topics, I will generally assume that the reader is familiar with the social model of disability and its implications for identifying and responding to disability discrimination.

[2] 19-22 (London: Women’s Press, 1991).

[3] See Disabling Imagery and the Media: An Exploration of the Principles for Media Representations of Disabled People (Ryburn Pub. and British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, 1992).

[4] Disabled People in Britain and Discrimination: A Case for Anti-Discrimination Legislation (London: C. Hurst & Co; Calgary, Alberta: University of Calgary Press in Association with the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, 1991), as discussed in Colin Barnes, Institutional Discrimination Against Disabled People and the Campaign for Anti-discrimination Legislation , 12 Critical Soc. Pol’y. 34 (1992).

[5] Barnes Institutional Discrimination Against Disabled People , id . at 3.

[6] “Disability Rights – Rhetoric and Reality in the U.K.” in 10 Disability and Society 111 (1995).

[8] Id . at 385-88.

[9] Id . at 392.

[10] “Making the Difference: Disability, Politics, Recognition in The Handbook of Disability Studies 546 (Gary L. Albrecht et al. eds., Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Pub., 2001).

[11] Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability, Oppression and Empowerment 149 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

[12] Shakespeare & Watson, supra note 10.

[13] Women and the Law 367-68 (Oxford: Clarendon; New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

[14] “Introduction” in Justice for People with Disabilities i, xv (Marge Hauritz, Charles Sampford & Sophie Blencowe eds., Sydney: Federation Press, 1998).

[15] See discussion id ., at xvii.

[16] M. Jones & L.A. Basser Marks, “The Limitations on the Use of Law to Promote Rights: An Assessment of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth)” in Justice for People with Disabilities , supra note 14, at 60-84.

[17] Id . at 78.

[18] Barnes Institutional Discrimination Against Disabled People , s upra note 4, at 109.

[19] 1996, ch. 56 (Eng.).

[20] R. v. The Governors of Whitefield School ex parte Manuel , No. CO/4510/1999 (Crown Office, High Court, Royal Courts of Justice); settled.

[21] Gooding, Disabling Laws, Enabling Acts xvii (London: Pluto Press, 1994) as quoted in Jeremy Cooper & Stuart Vernon, Disability and the Law 10 (London; Bristol; Pa: Jessica Kingsley Pub., 1996).

[22] Gooding, id . at 32 [as quoted in Cooper & Stuart, id . at 21].

[23] N.J. Wald et al. , “Antenatal Maternal Serum Screening for Downs’s Syndrome: Results of a Demonstration Project”, 305 Brit. Med. J. 391 (1992).

[24] D.C. Wertz & J.C. Fletcher, “Ethical and Social Issues in Prenatal Sex Selection: A Survey of Geneticists in 37 Nations”, 46 Social Science and Medicine 255 (1998).

[25] Paper delivered at Rehabilitation International Conference in Auckland, New Zealand attended by author (1996).

[26] Bob Edwards, Embryologist and In-vitro Fertilisation Specialist, as reported in Sunday Times of England , 4 July 1999.

[27] As quoted in Disabled People Speak on the New Genetics [Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI) Europe Position Statement on Bioethics and Human Rights], available online at: http://www.dpieurope.org/htm/bioethics/dpsngfullreport.htm

[28] “Medicine as an Institution of Social Control”, 20 Sociological Review 487, 487 (1972).

[29] Conference sponsored by DPI entitled Disabled People, Bioethics and Human Rights ; the declaration that emerged from the conference is available on the DPI Europe website: http://www.dpieurope.org/htm/bioethics/biodeclaration.htm

[30] “Introduction” 3, 3 in From Exclusion to Inclusion: A Report of the Disability Rights Task Force on Civil Rights for Disabled People (London: Department for Education and Employment, 1999); the report is available online at http://www.disability.gov.uk.drtf/index2.html

[31] Paul Steven Miller, “Is there a Pink Slip in my Genes? Genetic Discrimination in the Workplace,” 3 J. of Health Care L. & Pol’y 225, at 226 (2000).

[32] Executive Order 13, 145, 65 Federal Register 6877 (10 February 2000).

[33] Bill Clinton, Speech to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (8 February 2000), in Extracts from the Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, March 2000. Available online at: http://clinton6.nara.gov/2000-02-08-remarks-of-president-on-genetic-discrimination.html

[34] Supra note 12.

[35] “Recipe for Humans: For All Our Genetic Triumphs, We Still Don’t Understand Individuals say Patrick Bateson and Paul Martin”, The Guardian (U.K.), 6 September 2000.

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Being: Stories + Discussion Questions

Unspeakable Conversations, Harriet McBryde Johnson

  • How does Harriet McBryde Johnson’s reading address some of the common stereotypes and assumptions made about the experiences of persons with disabilities?  Provide examples from the reading to support your response. 
  • Do some research into the debate that is introduced in this opening essay. How do Peter Singer and Harriet McBryde Johnson differ in their beliefs on selective infanticide and legalized assisted suicide? What are the key points on both sides?
  • One of Singer’s primary arguments for both selective infanticide and legalized suicide focuses on the “quality of life” of disabled people and their caregivers. How does McByrde Johnson engage with these beliefs?  How does she challenge them? 
  • How does Harriet McBryde Johnson’s essay shed light on disability prejudice and ableism (both individual and systemic/structural)?  What are some examples she provides of  how our society reinforces ableism and disability prejudice? 
  • Harriet McBryde Johnson’s essay points out that “killing” is often viewed as the “appealing solution to the ‘problem’ of disability”.  What other possibilities does her essay offer for how we can view and approach disability? 

For Ki'tay D. Davidson, Who loves Us, Talila A. Lewis

  • What is intersectionality? How does Ki’tay’s approach to disability justice reflect a commitment to this concept? 
  • What does solidarity mean according to Ki’tay? How do initiatives like #DisabilitySolidarity work to promote intersectional justice?
  • Ki’tay Davidson was an important advocate for disability rights and intersectional justice.  What other examples of disability advocacy can you find in contemporary culture? What current issues are the focus of this activism/advocacy? 

If You Can't Fast, Give, Maysoon Zayid

  • Beyond fasting, what barriers or challenges might people with disabilities face as they participate in religious or faith communities? 
  •  How might religious communities and leaders work to address these barriers and foster greater inclusion for people with disabilities? 
  • What are some of the alternative ways that Muslims who have disabilities or chronic health issues have found to participate in their communities or religious practices? (Check out , this article by Nausheen Husain for additional examples)

There's a Mathematical Equation That Proves I'm Ugly-Or So I Learned in My Seventh-Grade Art Class, Ariel Henley

  • Ariel experiences embarrassment and shame at having her face compared to the work of Picasso.  How does Ms. J help her see this comparison differently?
  • How do social constructs and expectations of beauty impact people with disabilities? How do standards of beauty often reflect and reinforce ableism?
  • Do some research into “Ugly Laws”. What were the purpose(s) of these laws and how did they impact people with disabilities? How are disabled activists working to challenge narratives about disabled beauty and body image?
  • Find some examples of disability activism that focus on the beauty and unique potential of disabled bodies. 
  • What is meant by internalized ableism? How might internalized ableism make it difficult for people with disabilities to cultivate a healthy self-image or embrace body positivity? 

The Erasure of Indigenous People in Chronic Illness, Jen Deerinwater

  • How has the white, colonial gaze shaped how indigenous people are asked to define themselves? Provide examples from the reading.
  • What are some of the health inequities/disparities that native and indigenous people experience? How are these issues a direct result of colonialism?
  • What structural barriers exist for accessing healthcare and health services for Native/Indigenous peoples?
  • What unique challenges do native/indigenous persons with disabilities face? 
  • What are the possible solutions or reforms needed to address the inequities discussed in this reading?  Do some research to support your response, if needed.

When You Are Waiting to Be Healed, June Eric-Udorie

  • What  are some common misperceptions or cultural assumptions about disability or people with disabilities?
  • What does the author gain by owning disability as an identity?  
  • The author discusses their family’s hope that God or a doctor could cure their disability. What could be problematic about the narrative of a “cure” for disabilities?  
  • Should “curing” disability be the ultimate aim of healthcare? 
  • Rather than viewing disabilities through the lens of “brokeness”, how are people with disabilities working to change the narrative surrounding disability? 

The Isolation of Being Deaf in Prison, Jeremy Woody, as told to Christie Thompson

  • What problems did Jeremy Woody experience as a deaf person in prison? What examples does the author give of ableism* and audism* from the staff and others in prison?
  • Why is the incarceration of deaf and disabled people a human rights issue? Why is it a disability rights issue?
  • What factors contribute to the overrepresentation for people with disabilities in America’s prison system? 
  • What specific challenges do people with disabilities face in prison? How do prisons often fail to meet the needs of people with varying disabilities? 
  • What reforms are needed to better meet the needs of people with disabilities in the prison system? 
  • What problems in policing do people with disabilities face? What reforms are needed?
  • List three changes that could be made in our criminal justice system to reduce the amount of police brutality people with disabilities experience.

Common Cyborg, Jillian Weise

  • How does the author explain the difference between a cyborg and tryborg? 
  • What are some examples of adaptive and assistive technologies? How can these technologies promote greater inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities? 
  • What is meant by digital accessibility? Why is it important?

I’m Tired of Chasing a Cure, Liz Moore

  • How does this essay speak to the experiences and issues discussed by June Eric-Udorie in her essay “When You are Waiting to be Healed”? What are some of the similarities in these two narratives? 
  • How can the expectation of a “cure” lead to eugenics*?
  • How did the author try to overcome or “cure” their disability? What was the result?
  • What is missed when we focus on chasing a cure? What does the author hope will happen by accepting their chronic pain?
  • What could be problematic about the narrative of a “cure” for disabilities?  Should “curing” disability be the ultimate goal?
  • How is ableism reflected in much of the messaging surrounding “chasing a cure”?  
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Historical Context of Pride and Prejudice

The georgian era.

Between 1797, when a young Jane Austen began work on what would become Pride and Prejudice , and 1813, when the novel was published, the French Revolution was fought, Marie Antoinette was guillotined and Napoleon rose to power and conquered most of Western Europe. Closer to Austen’s home, Great Britain combined with Ireland to become the United Kingdom, the slave trade was abolished by Parliament throughout the British empire and King George III, driven to apparent madness by what historians now suspect to have been a rare hereditary metabolic disorder, was replaced in his duties by his son, the Prince Regent, later to become King George IV.

The Georgian era into which Jane Austen was born, characterized for Britain by almost constant warfare abroad, was in many ways a transitional period. It saw the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the shift from Enlightenment to Romantic trends in arts and letters, and the first whispers of feminist and abolitionist concerns in Western Europe. A little familiarity with these sweeping historical trends can lend some context to Austen’s domestic fictions, but perhaps more helpful is an understanding of the particular details of daily life during the Regency period; life as faced by Austen and so many of her fictional characters.

10,000 a Year

From the 16th well into the 19th century, respectable wealth in England was accumulated primarily through the ownership of land. The land would be leased to tenants for farming, and the landowning families would live entirely off of the income generated by these leases. The families owning the largest of these hereditary estates, which varied in size but averaged about 10,000 acres, drew incomes sufficient to construct great parks and manors, purchase fashionable goods, retain servants and livery (horses and carriages), and meet other expenses related to keeping a country home. The most prosperous landowners also kept a town home in London, the social and political center of England, and lived there during the social season, January through July. The oldest, though not necessarily the wealthiest, of these families may have had some claim to nobility with inherited titles that gave “precedence,” or a higher rank at social functions in town or country. The term “aristocracy” referred somewhat more ambiguously to any keepers of London town homes whose social and political connections bought them seats in Parliament or influence in the royal court.

In Pride and Prejudice , the Bennets are, like Jane Austen herself, members of an educated upper middle class known as the “gentry” or the “landed gentry.” Considered socially eligible to mix with the landowning aristocracy, but quite a step beneath them in wealth, resources and precedence, the landed gentry included country squires, military officers and many forms of clergy; all acceptable roles for the educated younger sons of the aristocracy and their descendants. Gentry may have owned less than 1,000 acres of land, may have leased to tenants or overseen the farming directly and typically lived in the country year-round, visiting London only to take care of occasional legal matters.

Beneath the gentry were the laboring classes of household servants, tenant farmers, merchants and “tradesmen,” such as smiths and carpenters, village doctors, town lawyers and other professionals. Though lower in social standing because their income bore “the taint of trade”, many merchants and tradesmen might in fact amass considerable wealth and could wind up wealthier than the poorest of the landowners. This was especially true as the Industrial Revolution progressed, pouring more and more wealth into the trade and merchant classes.

For the landowners and the gentry, management of all financial matters was a gentleman’s prerogative. By law and by custom, a woman was granted very little control over money, even money that we would today consider her own. A woman of the upper classes could expect to be granted a “fortune” from her family upon marriage or the death of her father. This lump sum of money would draw interest at a fixed 5 percent from investment in government funds, which would contribute to her husband’s income if she were married or would cover her living expenses if she remained single.

A man’s income, by contrast, was always reported as a number of pounds (£) “per year,” such as Mr. Bingley’s “four or five thousand a year.” About £100 a year was the barest minimum income on which a small household could be kept, retaining only one maid—a servant being necessary to maintain any claim of respectability. On £300 a year, a small family could retain two servants and live somewhat more comfortably, but still could not afford a carriage, which could only be supported on an income of at least £700 a year. Mr. Bennet draws about £2,000 a year, which would be sufficient to keep the appearance of comfort and respectability; but he bears the financial burden of providing dowries for five daughters. However, his estate is “entailed” upon his death away from the family to be given to a distant branch of the family in lieu of a male Bennet heir. But an income of more than £4,000 a year, like Bingley’s, could well-provide for both country and town homes, with all of the modern comforts and latest fashions. Indeed, Mr. Darcy’s £10,000 a year has been calculated in recent decades to be worth between $300,000 and $800,000 in U.S. dollars; while another estimate, comparing Mr. Darcy’s income against the Regency average, gives him the real purchasing power of a modern multimillionaire.

An Accomplished Lady

Some aspects of Regency life that have a strong bearing on the action in Austen’s novels are not necessarily given detailed description, because Austen’s first readers would already have been intimately acquainted with the highly formalized manners of the time. The custom of paying visits and leaving calling cards, for example, could consume the greater portion of a woman’s day, and many breaches of etiquette could spring from unreturned or improperly returned calls.

In addition to beauty, mastery of etiquette, a sharp mind or a pleasant disposition, a lady could show her gentility through the display of her “accomplishments.” Accomplishments were sets of skills encouraged and cultivated in young women, skills which were thought to help make a home more lively, entertaining or beautiful. Common accomplishments included drawing, needlework, playing an instrument or singing well, and mastering languages. A woman with many of these skills was thought to be “highly accomplished,” and, evidently, more marriageable.

Marriage, of course, was just about the only acceptable role for any woman. Women, like Austen herself, who passed beyond their youth without marrying became spinsters. They had no formal role in society and were occasionally a burden to their families. Even worse was the fate of educated young women of good standing whose fortunes were thrown in jeopardy by the sudden loss of their family. With no fortune, these women were nearly unmarriageable and might be required to enter the servant class as a governess of wealthy children in order to provide a living for themselves.

  • Copeland, Edward. “Money.” The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen . Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • Gray, Donald. “A Note on Money.” Pride and Prejudice: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism , 3rd ed. Norton, 2001.
  • “Jane Austen.” Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography . Gale Research, 1992.
  • “Jane Austen.” Encyclopedia of World Biography . Gale Research, 1998.
  • “Jane Austen.” World Eras . Gale Group, 2002.
  • Johnson, Diane. “ In Love with Jane .” The New York Review of Books , v. 52, n. 11, June 23, 2005.
  • Le Faye, Dierdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels . Harry Abrams, 2002.
  • Pool, Daniel. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist –The Facts of Daily Life in 19th Century England . Touchstone, 1993.

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Studies in Musical Theatre Special Issue: Disability in Music Theatre

Disability and musicals have a complicated relationship. Usually comprised of athletic, triple-threat actors, the musical theatre genre is preoccupied with health and wellness–often figuring disability as a stumbling block to a musical’s slickly choreographed world. At the heart of musicals like  Side Show ,  The Hunchback of Notre Dame , and  The Light in the Piazza , a disabled character’s non-normative status is of narrative consequence. However, these inclusions of disabled characters with diegetic disabilities are often only remarkable because of their societally defined excessive existence. Broadway revivals like  Oklahoma!  (2019) and  Camelot  (2022), as well as regional work like Deaf West’s  Fidelio  (2022), Olney Theatre Center’s  The Music Man  (2022, featuring a Deaf Harold Hill) or  Beauty and the Beast  (2021, featuring an amputee Beast), cast disabled performers in traditionally nondisabled roles, refiguring well-known characters and their relationship to the world of the play and its spectators.  How to Dance in Ohio  (2023) authentically casts autistic characters and uses access models for sensory-friendly performance as a production baseline, thereby demonstrating how accessibility can transform the theatrical experience and work as a commercial producing model. 

Cumulatively, the history of musical theatre demands a more robust engagement with disability/crip aesthetics as a distinct method in performance, pedagogy, accessibility and theory. This special issue of  Studies in Musical Theatre  takes aim at the compulsory able-bodiedness of the musical theatre canon and the ways the repertory frames disability in intersection with other forms of difference as constitutive of “excess” or freakery. As Disability Studies continues to grow as an analytical framework in musical theatre studies and beyond, this issue reserves space to reflect, take stock and think about the continued expansion of the field. We invite articles and notes from the field that might consider the following contributions:

Contributions may include:

● Questions of how disability severity is legible or formed through aesthetics, pedagogies, and production models

● (Re)Considerations of how disability is represented in local or regional musical theatre circuits or productions

● Reparative readings of musical theatre histories and investigations into how we do disability history and historiography of the late 19th and early 20th century repertoire

● Analyses of dramaturgical approaches to new or canonical works featuring disabled characters

● Interviews with or research on significant architects of disability-centered musical-theatrical performance (actors, composers, lyricists, directors, choreographers, musical directors, producers, etc.)

● Labor and union practices, and relevant case studies about disability-informed theatre practices

● Mapping the landscape of access-forward production practices, companies that employ them, and their correspondent costs or funding structures

● Assessments of alliances or schisms between methodological approaches to theatrical study and practice across Neurodiverse, Mad, Deaf, Disability and Crip cultures

● Intersections between Disability Studies and cognate fields like Fat Studies, critical race and ethnic studies, Indigenous Studies and Communication Disorders as they impact musical theatre and its intellectual, aesthetic or experienced coalitions.

We invite submissions in the form of articles up to 4,000 words or process-driven Notes from the Field (no more than 1000 words) that document the logistics of producing disability-centered musical theatre.

Please submit a 250-word abstract by April 1, 2024 to co-editors Samuel Yates ( [email protected] ), Caitlin Marshall ( [email protected] ), and Lindsey R. Barr ( [email protected] ) with the subject heading “SMT Disability.” Completed drafts for essays of approximately 4000 words and notes of approximately 1000 words will be due late Summer 2024.

Issue 19.2 will be published in Summer 2025.

You are welcome to email Samuel Yates, Lindsey R. Barr, or Caitlin Marshall with questions.

Reimagining Design with Nature: ecological urbanism in Moscow

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The twenty-first century is the era when populations of cities will exceed rural communities for the first time in human history. The population growth of cities in many countries, including those in transition from planned to market economies, is putting considerable strain on ecological and natural resources. This paper examines four central issues: (a) the challenges and opportunities presented through working in jurisdictions where there are no official or established methods in place to guide regional, ecological and landscape planning and design; (b) the experience of the author’s practice—Gillespies LLP—in addressing these challenges using techniques and methods inspired by McHarg in Design with Nature in the Russian Federation in the first decade of the twenty-first century; (c) the augmentation of methods derived from Design with Nature in reference to innovations in technology since its publication and the contribution that the art of landscape painters can make to landscape analysis and interpretation; and (d) the application of this experience to the international competition and colloquium for the expansion of Moscow. The text concludes with a comment on how the application of this learning and methodological development to landscape and ecological planning and design was judged to be a central tenant of the winning design. Finally, a concluding section reflects on lessons learned and conclusions drawn.

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Scotland’s government says a new law will tackle hate crime. Critics say it could hurt free speech

Scotland's First Minister Humza Yousaf speaks during First Minster's Questions (FMQ's) at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh, Scotland, Thursday March 28, 2024. (Jane Barlow/PA via AP)

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A new law against hate speech came into force in Scotland on Monday, praised by some but criticized by others who say its sweeping provisions could criminalize religious views or tasteless jokes.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act makes it an offense to stir up hatred with threatening or abusive behavior on the basis of characteristics including age, disability, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity. Racial hatred was already banned under a law dating from 1986.

The maximum sentence is seven years in prison.

The legislation does not specifically ban hatred against women. The Scottish government says that will be tackled by a separate forthcoming law against misogyny.

Scottish Minister for Victims and Community Safety Siobhian Brown said the new law would help build “safer communities that live free from hatred and prejudice.”

“We know that the impact on those on the receiving end of physical, verbal or online attacks can be traumatic and life-changing,” she said. “This legislation is an essential element of our wider approach to tackling that harm.”

Critics argue that the law will have a chilling effect on free speech, making people afraid to express their views. The legislation was passed by the Scottish Parliament almost three years ago but has been delayed by wrangling over its implementation.

Veteran human rights activist Peter Tatchell said the law was well-intended but vague, relying on “subjective interpretation” of what constitutes abuse and allowing people to report alleged offenses anonymously.

The Scottish National Party-led government in Edinburgh says the legislation includes free speech protections, including a specific guarantee that people can still “ridicule or insult” religion.

“The threshold of criminality in terms of the new offenses is very, very high indeed,” First Minister Humza Yousaf said. “Your behavior has to be threatening or abusive and intended to stir up hatred.”

“Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, who has called the law “ludicrous,” is among critics who say it could be used to silence what are known as “gender-critical” feminists, who argue that rights for trans women should not come at the expense of those who are born biologically female.

In a series of posts on X, Rowling referred to several prominent trans women as men. Misgendering could be an offense under the new law in some circumstances.

“I’m currently out of the country, but if what I’ve written here qualifies as an offence under the terms of the new act, I look forward to being arrested when I return to the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment,” Rowling wrote.

Scottish National Party lawmaker Joanna Cherry, another critic of the law, said that “if you are a woman, you have every right to be concerned.”

“Biological sex is not included as a protected characteristic in the act, despite women being one of the most abused cohorts in our society,” she wrote in The National newspaper.

Meanwhile, police organizations are concerned the law will trigger a flood of reports over online abuse.

David Kennedy, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said the law could “cause havoc with trust in police.” And the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents wrote to lawmakers to express worry that the law could be “weaponized” by an “activist fringe.”

The law is the latest case of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government, which is led by the pro-independence SNP, diverging from the Conservative U.K. administration in London. In 2022, the Scottish Parliament passed a law allowing people to change their legally recognized gender through self-declaration, without the need for medical certification.

The gender-recognition legislation was vetoed by the British government , which said it conflicted with U.K.-wide equalities legislation that, among other things, guarantees women and girls access to single-sex spaces such as changing rooms and shelters.

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If you are looking for something different but unique and are not satisfied by the traditional offer of tourist destinations, try looking eastward for a moment. We are not talking about the Far East but just east of Europe and a little further than better-known destinations like Venice or Berlin. We invite you to visit Russia and discover interesting facts about Russia that make this country so special.

Today, Russian tourism is on a rise for a variety of reasons, including great food, cultural heritage, and beautiful cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg. Traveling is supposed to be about exploring new things or meeting new people and this country is a tourist gem waiting to be discovered.

Why students travel to Russia, photo 1

1. Cultural Heritage

Russia might be a part of Europe but for most westerners, it is still a mysterious country with a unique mentality that makes them curious. People in Russia seem like warm, emotional souls who like drinking vodka and eating caviar for breakfast which is not far from the truth. This little prejudice doesn’t really summarize their cultural heritage which is vast and colorful.

We could write essays and college papers about Hermitage or Moscow’s Metro which is like a museum in the open. The city of St. Petersburg looks like the capital of some North Pole Kingdom with its castles, boulevards, and winter palaces. Maintaining the beauty of cultural monuments is taken very seriously so each tourist will enjoy a display of east-European architecture and design. We warmly recommend visiting sites like:

* Hermitage Museum * Red Square in Moscow * The Peterhof Palace * Mariinsky Theatre * Saint Isaac’s Cathedral

Why students travel to Russia, photo 2

2. Beautiful Nature

Just like Russian literature, everything in this country comes in big portions and inspires topics and interesting conversations. Huge cities, enormous landscapes, or large meals are just some examples, but traveling is how you get to know a country, not by reading essays or college papers. The most popular thing that students write in their essays on travelling through Russia is it’s frighteningly vast natural wildlife scenery. There are almost fifty national parks across this whole country so take your pick and enjoy connecting with mother nature. One will get plenty of topic ideas to inspire him If he wishes to write an essay after such a mesmerizing trip.

Some of the most beautiful National Parks are:

* Losiny Ostrov * Bashkiriya * Kenozersky * Kalevalsky * Chavash Varmane

Why students travel to Russia, photo 3

3. Education Opportunities

While native Russian might be a little difficult to learn, for those who conquer its basics, there are amazing opportunities to study in Russian college or university. Know that Russia’s education system is quite liberal so if you wondered does Russia have free college, the answer is affirmative. Many exchange student programs are available for those who show interest to study here.

This could be a unique chance to exchange cultural capital and values while reaching your educational goals. Studying in a Russian college is not so different in terms of taking classes and other obligations like writing research papers on various topics. Having paper due assignments might come less often because Russians prefer oral examination or open discussion.

Some of the Top Universities to check out:

* Tomsk Polytechnic University * MISIS University of Science and Technology * Moscow Engineering Physics Institute * HSE University of Economics

Why students travel to Russia, photo 4

4. Having Fun Russian Style

After all those essays, topic ideas, and college papers it is time to have some proper fun. Join your new friends as they take you through local taverns, try domestic cuisine, plus a few shots of national drinks. There are so many examples of traditional hospitality that one will experience on every corner, as he discovers some fabulous wonders of this great country. If one could write summaries about his Russian experience it would definitely include accounts of long nights in Moscow’s inns and nightclubs.

Maybe one of these:

* Propaganda * Pravda Club * Gipsy * City Pub Crawl

Why students travel to Russia, photo 5

These are the Russia facts, but we encourage travelers to explore uncharted territories by hanging out with local people thus learning about their culture and customs. That is the best way to truly understand the heart of its people. Changing scenery is always good for young students as it signals a fresh start in their lives. Maybe visiting this country will refresh your spirit or inspire you to achieve all your educational goals and dreams.

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COMMENTS

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  25. Why students choose Russia as their travel destination

    This little prejudice doesn't really summarize their cultural heritage which is vast and colorful. We could write essays and college papers about Hermitage or Moscow's Metro which is like a museum in the open. The city of St. Petersburg looks like the capital of some North Pole Kingdom with its castles, boulevards, and winter palaces. ...