Home : Audience : Researchers :

Emerging Disability Policy Framework: A Guidepost for Analyzing Public Policy

Iowa Law Review


Originally published: 8/2000

Suggested audiences:


Society has historically imposed attitudinal and institutional barriers that subject persons with disabilities to lives of unjust dependency, segregation, isolation, and exclusion. Attitudinal barriers are characterized by beliefs and sentiments held by nondisabled persons about persons with disabilities. Institutional barriers include policies, practices, and procedures adopted by entities such as employers, businesses, and public agencies.

Sometimes these attitudinal and institutional barriers are the result of deep-seated prejudice. At times, these barriers result from decisions to follow the "old paradigm" of considering people with disabilities as "defective" and in need of "fixing." At other times, these barriers are the result of thoughtlessness, indiffer-ence, or lack of understanding. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain precisely why the barriers exist.

In response to challenges by persons with disabilities, their families, and other advocates, our nation's policymakers have slowly begun to react over the past quarter of a century. They have begun to recognize the debilitating effects of these barriers on persons with disabilities and have rejected the "old paradigm."

A "new paradigm" of disability has emerged that considers disability as a natural and normal part of the human experience. Rather than focusing on "fixing" the individual, the "new paradigm" focuses on taking effective and meaningful actions to "fix" or modify the natural, constructed, cultural, and social environ-ment. In other words, the focus of the "new paradigm" is on eliminating the attitu-dinal and institutional barriers that preclude persons with disabilities from partici-pating fully in society's mainstream.

Aspects of the "new paradigm" were included in public policies enacted in the early 1970s. Between the 1970s and 1990, lawmakers further defined and society further accepted the "new paradigm." In 1990, the "new paradigm" was explicitly articulated in the landmark American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and further refined in subsequent legislation.

Many people have documented the historical mistreatment of persons with disabilities. Others have described and analyzed the ADA as a civil rights statute that prohibits discrimination in the areas of employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications. Few people have stepped back to con-sider the fundamental beliefs and core policies that were reflected in the 1970s legislation, explicitly articulated in the ADA, and further refined in subsequent legislation. Taken as a whole, these efforts have critical implications regarding the design, implementation, and evaluation of programs and policies that affect persons with disabilities.

The purpose of this Article is to provide an Emerging Disability Policy Framework consistent with the "new paradigm" that can be used as a lens or guide-post to design, implement, and evaluate generic, as well as disability-specific, public policies and programs to ensure meaningful inclusion of people with dis-abilities in mainstream society.

To this end, this Article is targeted to the needs of several audiences. This Article offers a guidepost for designing, implementing, and assessing generic, as well as disability-related programs and policies for federal, state and local policymakers, as well as for persons with disabilities, their families, and their advocates. For re-searchers, this Article provides a benchmark for studying the extent to which ge-neric and disability-specific policies and programs reflect the "new paradigm" and achieve its goals. For service providers, this Article provides a lens for designing, implementing, and evaluating the delivery of services to persons with disabilities. Finally, for college and university professors teaching courses that include disabil-ity policy, this Article provides a framework for policy analysis.

Read the article in MS Word.