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Ableism and The Americans with Disabilities Act

By Carli Friedman, CQL Director of Research

People with disabilities have long faced discrimination and ableism. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was introduced in 1990 to promote justice, equality, and inclusion of people with disabilities. Ultimately, the ADA aimed to reduce disability discrimination, including by having consistent and enforceable standards. Despite this intent, many people with disabilities have not seen changes in their lives since the ADA passed and continue to face disparities in participation, community integration, and quality of life as a result of physical and structural barriers, and discrimination. For these reasons, in this study we examined the relationship between ableism and support for the ADA. To do so, we analyzed data from 13,000 nondisabled people.

Our findings revealed that people who opposed the ADA had more explicit (conscious) disability prejudice than people who supported the ADA. People opposed to the ADA also had more implicit (unconscious) disability prejudice than those who supported the ADA. In fact, people who opposed the ADA had an average implicit prejudice score of 0.54, whereas those who supported the ADA had an average implicit prejudice score of 0.48. In addition to ableism, other factors, including age, education, political orientation, sex, race, and friends/close acquaintances with disabilities, also impacted someone’s likelihood to support or oppose the ADA.

“To uphold the principles and regulations put forth by the ADA, beliefs and attitudes of negative prejudice against people with disabilities must be renounced. In fact, negative attitudes and prejudicial behaviors are consistently reported by people with disabilities as one of the leading causes of a lack of accommodations and barriers to participation… Recognizing negative prejudices of disability and that discrimination against people with disabilities is deeply woven into the fabric of our institutions, media, and day-to-day practices is a step toward reflecting on personal beliefs and how our own actions may in fact be discriminatory” (Friedman & VanPuymbrouck, 2021, pp. 7-9).

This article is a summary of the following journal manuscript: Friedman, C., & VanPuymbrouck, L. (2023). Support for the Americans with Disabilities Act among nondisabled people. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 34(3), 199-210.