Expanding the Scope of Social Science Research on Disability: Volume 1


Table of contents

(11 chapters)

Charles Darwin's correspondence with Dr. John Down indicates that both men thought of people with mental retardation as being akin to humanity's evolutionary predecessors. Recent attempts to teach people with mental retardation to use the computer languages taught to apes show that this conceptualization of mental retardation has remained an unspoken and perhaps unformulated element in public and professional attitudes to people with disabilities ever since. Refuting this conceptualization points the way to a more productive approach to the conditions now classified as ‘mental retardation’.

Both women and men have benefited from the successes of the disability rights movement, but the special needs of women with disabilities for jobs, sexual relationships, and a family life have not been so squarely faced. In this paper, I discuss gender differences in the roles and social status of people with disabilities. I argue that there are contradictions and status dilemmas in the beliefs about the characteristics of women and men with disabilities and that gender-related behavioral expectations create constraints for both. I also discuss the expectation that caregivers will be women and the effect of this expectation on the social roles of women and men with disabilities. Melding gender norms would be helpful, but just as people with disabilities have special needs if they are to live mainstream lives, women with disabilities also have special needs for services, especially around sexuality and procreation.

This paper uses data from the Annual March Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS) to provide contemporary estimates of employment rates among persons with disabilities, to estimate the fraction of such persons who did not work in the year prior to the survey but were able to enter jobs, to estimate the fraction of those who worked in the year prior to survey but who left jobs and to analyze the factors affecting the probability that persons with disabilities will be able to enter new jobs or maintain the ones they hold.We find that persons with disabilities are about 30 percent as likely to be employed at any one time as persons without disabilities, if unemployed they are about one-fifth as likely to enter jobs and if employed they are about three times as likely to leave work. Differences between persons with and without disabilities in demographic and work characteristics account for a substantial fraction of the gap in their employment rates; a significant, albeit smaller, fraction of the difference in their ability to maintain jobs they already hold; and almost none of the difference in their ability to gain entry to new jobs. Disability, thus, would appear to account for low rates of job entry among persons with disabilities, but low employment rates and high rates of job loss among such persons are apparently due in large measure to other demographic and occupational factors.

This paper discusses the conceptual framework of a community-based, participatory, research project in Victoria, BC, Canada, in which people with disabilities and health care providers work together to understand the health care experiences of people with disabilities. Learning together is assumed to be a useful precursor to taking effective action, in the context of explicitly more “inclusive” health care planning (a goal of local health care reform). The paper argues that to offer useful insights for action by and for people with disabilities who are health care clients, the social organization of their actual experiences needs to be explored and critically analyzed. To do this, Dorothy Smith's (1987, 1990) institutional ethnography is employed and its use explained in the paper.

The increase in intentional injury has led to research on violence prevention as well as research on the effects of violence. The purpose of this paper is to examine factors correlated with disability-related intentional injury hospitalizations (using data from Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP-3) for 1992). Findings from this sample of over 800 hospitals across 11 states (California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) reveal that no one group is immune from the effects of violence. It touches the old, the young, urban residents, rural residents, African Americans, Latinos, Caucasian American, the poor and nonpoor alike. Intentional injury victims with impairment conditions, chronic conditions or degenerative conditions were more likely to be over 65, female, to have Medicaid or self pay as an expected payer for their medical care, to have been hospitalized for child battering or some other form of maltreatment, to have been hospitalized because of being assaulted by a cutting or sharp instrument or to have been hospitalized as a result of the late effects of injuries purposely inflicted by another person.

People with disabilities have been called “the sleeping giant in our midst” (Zola 1993) because of their vast numbers and relative isolation from the American mainstream. Usually, discussions of this isolation are framed in terms of higher rates of unemployment, lower levels of educational attainment, lower incomes and lower rates of community participation (Louis Harris & Associates 1986, 1994). However, this characterization of people with disabilities as a huge, unrealized force may be especially apt in the context of electoral politics. In this paper, we review some of our recent research that has begun to shape our understanding of the role of people with disabilities in the American political system. This review of our prior work includes empirical tests of the “conventional wisdom” regarding the factors that influence electoral participation as well as a discussion that reflects recent theoretical developments in disability studies and political science. While in this review we do not provide an exhaustive summary of our prior work, we do provide an overview of this long-term research agenda. Finally, we conclude with many unanswered questions and ideas for future research.

Title III of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act was passed to end discrimination against persons with disabilities, to provide “functional equality” and to make buildings accessible. This public policy was aimed at integrating persons with disabilities into the mainstream. But, persons with disabilities, “social watchdogs” and governmental agencies have had to go to court to ensure compliance from private and governmental organizations charged by law to supply the services.Through a study of two court cases, one involving the MCI Center in Washington, D.C., and the second the Rose Garden in Portland, Ore., we focus on public policy and its effectiveness and reach two major conclusions. First, we suggest that American public policy using law as an instrument can lead to vagueness in its formulation and ambiguity in its implementation. Second, we highlight the lessons that can be learned from a review of these court decisions and argue that persons concerned with shaping public policy have to attend assiduously to clarity in formulation of the law, the manner in which courts interpret laws and administrative guidelines, since this is often as much a political process as rote application of juridical principles and precedents.

Publication date
Book series
Research in Social Science and Disability
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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