Whither the Disability Rights Movement?

While reading this book in 2010, almost twenty years to the date after President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”), one realizes how much the world of politics has changed. It is difficult to remember a time when such major legislation passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 91 to 6 and the House of Representatives by 377 to 28. Even more surprising, as we look back to 1990, is the fact that the executive branch was controlled by a different political party than the legislative branch. Contrast this legislative record with the milieu surrounding the health care reform legislation of 2010 and the economic stimulus bill of 2009, and the overwhelming bipartisan vote on the ADA seems quite remarkable. This unique legislative history provides the context for Professor Bagenstos’s new book, Law and the Contradictions of the Disability Rights Movement. In his book, Bagenstos traces how the often-diverging strands of the disability rights movement coalesced to create change, and how the diversity of the movement is now inhibiting future change. In short, Bagenstos’s book is about the contradictions and tensions within the disability rights movement and the law it forged. His analysis and conclusions are very insightful and appear to be drawn from both his numerous articles on the subject and his experience in the movement, including arguing several significant ADA cases before the Supreme Court. Indeed, while there are many aspects of Bagenstos’s book that make it worth reading, his analysis of the movement’s core contradiction, its history, and its ongoing impact are particularly helpful, even to those who have already had significant exposure to the ADA.