Gendering Disability to Enable Disability Rights Law
This Essay enriches the social model of disability by analyzing the interaction between disability and gender. The modern disability rights movement is built upon the social model, which understands disability not as an inherent personal deficiency but as the result of the environment with which an impairment interacts. The social model is reflected in the accommodation mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which holds employers responsible for the limiting aspects of their workplace designs. This Essay shows that the environmental limitations imposed upon impairments result not only from the physical aspects of a workplace but also from identity-based stereotypes, biases, and oppressions that affect how disability is experienced and perceived. Specifically, this Essay furthers the social model by challenging the existing genderneutral view of the causes and consequences of disability. The analysis reveals how ignoring gender has enabled masculine norms to become embedded in the ADA’s substantive and procedural approaches to defining and remedying disability discrimination in the workplace. As a result of this inattention to gender, women with disabilities have suffered serious social and economic consequences. This Essay demonstrates, more generally, how ignoring other social identities renders nonprototypic members of the disabled community legally invisible, and it reveals how attending to other social identities may advance the social model of disability, deepen our understanding of disability discrimination, and empower disability rights law to serve a more diverse group of individuals.